Op-Ed: Elio Motors Thinks it Can Sell This 3-wheeler. It Can't.

Elio Motors 2-wheeler

Earlier this week, Troy-based manufacturer Elio Motors introduced more than 20 key suppliers who will be key contributors to the production of the three-wheeled vehicle we featured back in January. Despite industry heavyweights including Altair Engineering, IAV, and NEWTECH 3 involve, a claimed 84 MPG fuel economy rating, a (dubiously anticipated) 5-star safety rating, and a starting price of just $6,800, I think Paul Elio’s little endeavor will fail.

Scratch that. Elio Motors will utterly fail, completely fail, and embarrassingly fail.

Why should you believe me?

First, you need ignore the big-name suppliers. That’s a smokescreen put out into the newsosphere by Paul Elio’s PR people. All it really amounts to is “Altair Engineering is willing to take my money.” I can walk into a Firestone tomorrow and buy 20 sets of tires, but that doesn’t mean Firestone is in any way “backing” my backyard supercar endeavor, savvy? With that out of the way, let’s get to the heart of why Elio’s “cars” will fail.

Elio’s “cars” aren’t cars. Not as far as the DOT or your local DMV is concerned, anyway. See, tipping the scales at less than 1500 lbs. and with only 3 wheels underneath them, Elio Motors’ three-wheelers are, in legal terms, motorcycles. That’s why vaporware specialists like Elio build three-wheelers in the first place: they don’t have to meet the same stringent, hyper-expensive safety and emissions standards as cars, and aren’t subject to the same rigorous tests. In addition, motorcycle manufacturers aren’t held to the same level of legal responsibility that car companies are, even in hyper-litigious countries like the good-‘ol US-of-A.

SO, to be clear, premise 1 in my argument is: Elios Motors’ “cars” are, in fact, motorcycles.

I can already hear you asking, “So, what?” You’re right, of course. Honda sells motorcycles. Yamaha sells motorcycles. Kawasaki sells motorcycles. Why can’t Elio?

Premise 2: Many states require motorcycle helmets.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Premise 3: No one wants to wear a motorcycle helmet inside “a car”.

Tom Servo says you look stupid.
Tom Servo says you look stupid.

Because Elios are motorcycles and no one in their right mind would want to wear a motorcycle helmet inside one of these “cars”, Elio won’t be able to sell any of these “cars” in states that require motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

This simple, helmet-based reasoning doesn’t take into consideration other factors, either, factors like …

  • the cost to insure one of these motorcycle
  • the impact riding a motorcycle might have on the driver’s insurance
  • the additional costs and hassles involved in obtaining a motorcycle license

… and the fact that (sort-of) three-wheelers like the DeltaWing have effectively proven that the Elio is built backwards.

Combine all those things, (probably) insufficient funding, and a design aesthetic that makes Genuine’s Lemonhead look tough, and Elio has all the earmarks of a losing deal. Do yourself a favor and keep your hard-earned money as far away from Elio as possible.

Source | Photos: Detroit News.

 

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.