There are some nagging questions about this vehicle. I can tell by the number of callers we have on the show that interest is high. There are issues however, that they must overcome:
Is it a car or motorcycle?
Yes, the Elio’s 3-wheeled design makes for a striking appearance, allowing people to pester the prospective owners with questions like “where’s the rest of it?” and “when is the cast of Family Matters doing a reunion show?”, but there’s a very good reason why Elio Motors decided to make do with one less wheel than your average Ford Pinto: it’s technically a motorcycle, which means that in most states, you’ll need a motorcycle license to drive one.
In some states, you’ll be required to have a helmet on while driving, which should put quite a dent in the potential pool of buyers. With the Elio’s motorcycle classification, there is no federal mandate to actually crash test it to make it legal to drive on US roads, which is why the 5-star crash test rating is theoretical, as no actual testing has been done. That means if you buy an Elio, there’s a good chance that you’ll be moonlighting as a crash test dummy without knowing it.
It’s Not Actually Any Better For The Environment.
On top of the lofty claim of perfect safety ratings, there’s the lofty and unfounded claim of the environmental impact of its fuel-sipping power plant.
Here’s an excerpt from Elio:
This is a very green vehicle – and we’re not just talking about the color. Yes, it gets an absurd amount of MPG on the highway, but you’ll be doing your share of city driving, too. Fear not, with its projected city rate of 49 MPG, you’ll be consuming only 1/3 of what the average American vehicle consumes.
Keep in mind they don’t mention emissions at all, because the motorcycle designation legally allows them to forego all that messy and expensive emissions equipment, like evaporative emissions canisters, exhaust gas recirculation, and even the staple of cleaner air technology in cars – the catalytic converter.
What this potentially means is that without these necessary additions, you could have something that pollutes the atmosphere. It has the clean-air restrictions of a Chinese-made, gas-powered leaf blower. Elio, for their part, says the vehicle will meet or exceed stringent California emissions requirements.
Yes, motorcycles have this same issue, but the majority of motorcycle owners don’t use them as daily commuter vehicles and the climate in most of the country prohibit their practical use year-round. If Elio really does have up to date, emissions-compliant equipment on board, that will truly be an amazing feat.
They Don’t Have A Running Engine For It Yet.
If one does a Google search on “Elio Motors engine”, you’ll have a few options that pop up – the Suzuki G10/Geo Metro 3-cylinder engine, and the rendering of one Elio plans to design and build in-house. That’s the one that allegedly gets 84 miles per gallon on the highway, and that’s the one that hasn’t been implemented yet.
In all of the preliminary reviews and first look videos of the car, the prototype vehicles have different production engines, none with the proprietary Elio powerplant, and that should be particularly troubling if you pre-ordered one of these things, as the proposed start of production is summer 2015, and their engine designs and testing are far from complete.
New engine development, testing, and tooling takes years, and for Elio to put such a close deadline on production, it’s all but impossible for them to fulfill their initial promises, as was the case when they delayed the car again and again.
They Don’t Have Enough Money.
In order to get the ball rolling on this project, Elio Motors needs about $200 million. Starting your own boutique, affordable car company is very, very expensive. As of five months ago, the company raised $55 million, in large part due to its successful pre-order campaign, which left a monetary gap of $145 million, to be filled by the middle of next year, all on the hopes of few prototypes that aren’t indicative of the final product and by some reviewers, “going to need a considerable amount of work”.
As it stands now, there are 35,000 pre-orders for the trike, which does help with fundraising, but even in the best case scenario, that leaves about $100 million needed to actually start production, and in my opinion, the second people start pulling out en masse because of years of delays and underachievement, the company will be in real trouble.
Personally, I am rooting for them, but it looks like the famous 84-mpg $6800 “car” is going to have an uphill climb.