(Image Credits: Andrew Collins)

Arcimoto’s $12,000 semi-enclosed electric vehicle is not going to replace the average American’s daily driver. But for what it costs, and how far it can go, it actually might be a viable inexpensive option for adventurous people who want an EV.

This unique looking contraption is the product of a small Oregon-based outfit that I was tempted to ignore after reading the phrase “catalyze the shift to a sustainable transportation system” on its website. But Arcimoto wisely had its buggies sunning themselves right at the front door of the LA Auto Show, and even sitting still they look a lot more fun than a PowerPoint presentation or press conference.

Thankfully the company’s people were able to articulate what they were trying to do without breaking out the buzzword thesaurus– the point of the Arcimoto is to fall in a place between “affordable” and “practical” where nothing else exists in the young EV market.

So, yes, you can now apparently buy brand-new EV with decent specs like a 70 mile range and 80 mph top speed, for about half the price of a very cheap car. But, also yes, it is, in some respects, pretty much... half a car.

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Arcimoto’s people promised me that you do not need a motorcycle license to drive this in California. And it is less intimidating than a two-wheeler, but even with the roll cage and comfortable double seatbelt restraint (you basically put two regular seat belts on; one going each direction) my first thought was crash survivability or lack thereof.

Still, $12,000. For an EV with an 80 mile range.

Climbing into the thing was slightly awkward at first, as your legs splay out a little around a big chunk of the vehicle’s body. But the view from the pilot’s seat is almost exactly what I’d imagine the interior view of a star fighter would look like. You know, if you controlled an X-Wing with a set of handlebars.

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The gauges are simplistic- just a tablet with a simple speed and battery level readout. But getting the hang of the controls would be pretty easy for anyone who’s ever ridden a bicycle.

A car-style handbrake is at your left, for parking. A foot brake is on your right for stopping the machine when it’s not powered on, and the right end of the handlebar acts as a throttle just like a motorcycle. The single brake lever is just ahead of that on the right.

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Low-speed maneuvering requires a fair bit of effort. There’s a lot of resistance in the front wheels when you’re trying to make a full-lock turn at about 1 mph.

Twisting the throttle provides adequate acceleration for jumping into LA traffic, but even a full boot won’t scare you. Arcimoto claims the vehicle’s official zero to 60 time is 7.5 seconds.

But in spite of the 80 mph top speed spec, I think this vehicle would be best enjoyed between 10 and maybe 50. We took a lap around downtown LA and I felt plenty confident in the thing’s stability and quickness, but I got the sense that a long highway ride might be a little nerve wracking.

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Not that you’re going to do any major road trips in an 80-mile-range vehicle, anyway.

After a few minutes behind the handlebars, I feel like an Arcimoto could be a fun warm-weather runabout for somebody who’s into or even just intrigued by electric cars. I think a business renting these in a beach town could do pretty well, too.

Built quality seemed solid on the prototype Arcimoto I rode. No weird rattles or sketchy gaps that I could easily see, though there’s not much to the whole 1,000-odd pound machine. That, of course, is part of what makes it neat. And affordable.

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But as with all upstart automakers, the big questions here are going to be about distribution, customer service, and the product’s longevity. Arcimoto’s people were proud to tell me that the first three-wheeler had indeed been successfully delivered to a customer, which is a good start. I was told the company hopes to build and sell about 2,000 in the next year, and ramp up to a 10,000-trike annual production capacity after that.

Arcimoto’s plan to get people’s paws on these is a combination of online deliver-to-you sales, and a program to turn customers into sales reps. Basically, if you buy one and let people test-drive it you can get paid off referrals.

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I’m not ready to lose my mind over this as a paradigm shift in the way people get around, but, I could see it making people smile in the right application. It definitely brought a lot of thumbs-ups in the few blocks I buzzed around.