Up Close and Personal With the Elio Motors Prototype



Elio Motors trotted its Hemi orange out to the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Las Vegas this past weekend in a bid to show it off to guys who love unique cars and pick up a few more deposits. Solid plan, I say. And, besides, what’s a travel/marketing expense account for if not blowing it on a weekend in Las Vegas, right? Right!

So, Elio and I approached the BJ auction (?) with similar, expense-account slaughtering goals. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what this prototype, the company’s latest on a multi-million dollar R&D budget, was like up close. Hilariously, they let me climb and crawl all over the thing, taking pictures and asking the crunchy granola-type salespeople bunches of questions.

What did I find out? Read on.


Elio Motors Prototype at Barret-Jackson

The first thing that surprised me was just how good-looking the Elio Motors trike is from 10′ away. As Garth would say, though, it’s a bit of a Monet. It looks amazing from far away, but get closer and you’ll see that it’s it’s all f***ed up.

Let’s start with that slick orange bodywork. It really does look stunning from a few yards back, and there is no criticism that can rightly be aimed at it in the styling department. The Elio guys did a fantastic job with it- but the details are lacking. The shut lines, for example, are uneven at the door and the front bumper cap. Now, it is a prototype, so that kind of thing might be forgiven. But, remember, this is the prototype that will help to usher in a multi-billion dollar company set to revolutionize transportation in the United States to the tune of 250,000 units a year. Put in that light, the sub-kit-car body panel fitment is less forgivable.

Inside, the build quality is even worse. The Elio logo on the steering wheel is decidedly sub-par, and stood out as especially terrible in the context of Barrett-Jackson. Yes, there were a number of high-dollar exotics on hand and that’s not what the Elio is- but there were also a number of hot rods and customs built by shops with a budget that’s easily dwarfed by Elio’s. The HVAC control, a streamlined metallic panel by Vintage Air, might be fine for a street rod, but it’s not illuminated, awkwardly placed, and really isn’t appropriate for a modern vehicle. Neither is the 1990s-era GM parts-bin dash. Especially when something digital and GPS-based would probably be cheaper, in today’s dollars, to mass produce than an old-school plastic swinging needle assembly.

The headliner was impossibly cheap, too. And the seats were- well. Let’s just say that it was pretty obvious this wasn’t the Elio’s first auto show.

Now, keep in mind, none of these sins are unforgivable for someone who’s trying to sell a few dozen kit cars to get their business started. But Elio? Elio has plans to put 250,000 of these things on the road per year. More than Volvo, Mini, and Mitsubishi did last year- combined! (probably)

Do the Elio Motors people really believe that a sub-par, three-year-old prototype showing off technology that was old twenty years age is the way forward? Really? I can’t believe that they do, regardless of how earnestly the granolas seemed to believe in the product and the brand. Up close, the prototype seemed like a cynical, jaded excuse to put a weekend in Vegas on the company credit card before showing up to the LA Auto Show with a new “prototype” to ask for even more money. And, you know, maybe that’s what it is. Maybe that’s all it ever was. Styling like that deserves better, though, and so do the thousands hundreds that still believe in Paul Elio’s dream.

Here’s hoping the company decides to right by the prototype, at least, and has it refinished by a capable low-volume builder sooner rather than later.


Original content from Gas 2.

About the Author

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.
  • t_

    Innovation is not always the newest technology. It is also using old technologies for a different purpose, using them differently. This is what Elio is aiming to do. If he ever does begin production, I mean…

    • That was the initial pitch, yes … but that “old” tech is now a full 7 years older than when he started. Keep in mind, also, that using old tech doesn’t necessarily save money. This is 2016- tech is cheap, it’s LABOR that’s expensive!

      • t_

        Actually, only old tech, or “low” tech is cheap. That is what the elio trike is. The ” new” thing is that they intend to offer a smaller “thing” and couple it with a not thirsty engine. But we all know that. In my opinion, it is doable. At least smaller volumes producing companies do put to market similar things for a not so higher price.
        If Elio will do it finally, I’m not so sure anymore. But let’s not mix the two things – the idea is still good.

        • You’re wrong. An automotive-quality array of spinning plastic needles driven by gears and vacuum lines is significantly more expensive to make, assemble, and install in 2016 than, for example, a GPS-enabled iPad kind of thing.

  • Rick Danger

    On a positive note, at least Elio has put together a more colorful palette to choose from than 50 shades of gray 🙂
    Not that you’re ever likely to see one in your neighborhood… or any neighborhood.

  • Lex

    Well, I had to know it was going to be the typical smarmy-snarky Eliot bash that Bore- ass in know for.

    • I didn’t call Elio’s remaining true-believers “gullible idiots” in this one. There’s that.

  • Leonard Zupko

    Unfortunately, I made a ‘contribution’ to Elio back in 2014 as ‘all in’. I lost my failt over a year ago, and chalked up my loss as a donation to Elio’s paycheck. Elio has pulled in millions of $ and this is the best they can do (Jo, thanks for the insight on what the Elio ‘really’ looks like).

  • JP

    The “all-in” people should file a class A. They have every right to get there money back. At what point is it fraud?

    • It’ll never be “fraud”, because Paul will always be able to say, “Look, guys- I always intended to build thousands and thousands of cars. I was very clear that I never planned to build these in small volumes.” so, despite the fact that he’s pulled well over a million dollars in salaries and loans from the company, he will be able to keep on doing so.

  • Doug

    Lets face it, Elio will never hit showrooms. Mr. Elio is nothing more than a scam artist who is using the money from investors minimally to promote his prototype and spending the balance on a lavish lifestyle. The final product, if there ever is one, would cost nearly twice what they are offering them for in their marketing campaign. They know it, but continue to fleece investors dry. Bernie Madoff would be proud.

    • Phoghat

      “who is using the money from investors minimally to promote his prototype and spending the balance on a lavish lifestyle. ” #citationneeded

  • fred smith the deplorable

    Since Elio is dragging the old mule around to current car shows, the criticisms in this article are fair. It would be reasonable to point out that they have built another show mule, one semi-complete prototype and one roller since the P4 at this show. It would also be appropriate to note that they are over $100M upside-down, and claim to need over $300M to start production. And to point out that they have only completed 2 of the 23 promised E-series prototypes that they said would be built and tested before the 100 lease units (S-series) would be built in Shreveport starting this December. And to mention that Paul Elio has promised that production would not start before the second quarter of 2017, while not actually giving a solid production date.

    This has been going on in its current, reservation-taking, production-starts-next-year-or-so, form for almost four years now. P T Barnum may have been wrong about a sucker being born every minute, but Paul Elio still seems to be able to find about 60 new ones every day.

  • Pat B

    It’s scam. They were supposed to start production in 2012,,, then 2013,,, then 2014,,, then 2015… then 2016… They have no working engine and no production plant. 10,000s of people have been swindled out of their money. The only people making lots of money is Mr Elio himself.

  • Nice Twits

    I guess this is what Trump meant by making America great again. 🙂

    • He’s talking about banning shredded cheese. He wants to make America grate again!!

  • Phoghat

    It was a great idea 4 years ago, but time, and innovation marches on

  • Shilo

    Geez, it’s not meant to be a car for the snooty rich. It’s only for people who want to save money at the pump or those who are poor. Buy cheap, get cheap. That should be obvious from the start and already known to everyone.

    And honestly, people who buy a car like this won’t care about the quality or the mismatch of parts. It’s the same reason why those white, boxy, Soviet era Ladas were still being made and
    bought right up until they were discontinued in the last decade
    willfully by the manufacturer. And even then they are still on the roads today.

  • smartacus

    i like it 🙂

  • Snowie0wl

    It’s not /the/ prototype because anyone who even remotely follows Elio Motors knows that that is an older prototype. People who have seen the newer red one say that the fit and finish is far better than the orange one.

  • Snowie0wl

    It’s not /the/ prototype because anyone who even remotely follows Elio Motors knows that that is an older prototype. People who have seen the newer red prototype with the new engine say that the fit and finish is far better than the orange one.