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.


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.