If you haven’t yet heard of Elio Motors, you most certainly will in the near future. Since the age of 8, auto enthusiast and CEO Paul Elio has wanted to own his own car company. A few short years ago, he made that dream a reality with the launch of Elio Motors. Determined to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, Elio has created a new vehicle that will surely change the way we experience our daily commute.
And just what is an Elio? According to Vice-President of Sales, Jerome Vassallo, it is technically classified as a three-wheeled motorcycle, but engineered to look and feel like a car.
Here’s a brief run-down of the specs:
Engine: Fuel-injected, SOHC gas-powered, 3 cyl., .9 liter, liquid-cooled, automotive engine with front wheel drive and standard 5-speed manual or available automatic transmission
Performance: 55 hp and 55 lb.-ft. of torque, 0-60 in 9.6 seconds with a top speed of 100 mph
Fuel Economy: 8-gallon tank, 84 mpg highway, 49 mpg city
Weight: 1,228 lbs
Elio Motors’ mission is simple: “To provide a fun-to-drive, super-economical personal transportation alternative, that’s affordable, safe, and environmentally friendly. We are committed to the American dream, creating American jobs, and bringing American automotive ingenuity to every vehicle we build. This is, and will remain our mission at Elio.” After my research this week, it seems they are on target to achieve this mission and much more. I had a chance to speak to Vassallo over the phone while he was on the road with the Elio tour, and got the inside scoop on everything about this inventive vehicle.
First and foremost I wanted to know how comfortable the car is to drive, based on it’s size. It is important to note, Elio uses all automotive components in the vehicle. “The seats you’re sitting in are the same seats that would be found, say, in a Ford Mustang or maybe a Ford Focus,” said Vassallo. The seats are made by Lear, a company that provides approximately 50% of seats used in the industry. Once you have that as a starting platform, all of the controls in the vehicle are close by. There is a standard automotive steering wheel, gear shift located on the right, and gas and brake pedals located in the standard position. It is the same configuration found in a car, so it is very easy to drive. They’ve also increased the space around the driver in the cockpit. Elio has added one and a half inches of space from the outer chest of the driver to the door, which gives it a roomier feel than a sport utility vehicle, even though there is less actual space in the car. Vassallo says it feels bigger than most small cars on the road today once inside the car.
My next question tackled the subject of safety. This car is significantly smaller and lighter weight than others on the road, so I wanted to know how it will handle a hit by a normal sized vehicle when driving. The answer surprised me. The car has been engineered for a minimum 30 mph impact all the way around the body, with the rear being engineered to withstand a 50 mph hit. “Airbags have unfortunately become a sales and marketing tool,” said Vallasso. “People focus on the number of airbags and tend to overlook the actual frame of the car”. The Elio has a hardened steel roll cage around the entire body of vehicle. The design of the vehicle also has an elongated front end, which serves as a crumple zone. Finally, the car comes equipped with three airbags, one in the steering wheel and two on either side of the vehicle that run the length of the car. Vassallo stressed the key to engineering a safe car is to engineer it to sacrifice itself for its occupants. The most important components to safety are the frame, the seat belt, airbags, and highly engineered crumple zones that will absorb the impact of the crash. The Elio has all of these components, making it a very safe choice.
The handling and visibility around the car are also well engineered. Visibility is actually increased, as the driver does not have to look around a headrest or another seat when changing lanes to the right. In terms of the drive, Vassallo likens it to the Mazda Miata. It has a tighter sport suspension, but you won’t feel every single pothole in the road. The suspension has been adjusted to account for the lightness of the vehicle. The handling is typical to a smaller vehicle. Vassallo says he does not notice a difference between a four-wheeled car and the three-wheeled Elio. He says the performance is comparable to a base Ford Mustang in terms of handling and cornering. Because the Elio is a completely new vehicle, different from anything on the road, the company feels everything about the vehicle, including safety and handling, need to be way above expectations, and Vassallo believes Elio has achieved that. “When consumers get into the vehicle, you want them to feel like it’s better than the vehicle they’re driving right now,” he said.
In terms of features, the Elio is pretty light on equipment. Each car comes with the same standard package which includes air conditioning, a radio and an auxiliary plug in. While most economy cars come with available package options, Vassallo says Elio will stick with its standard offering. This helps keep the price of the vehicle low. It also keeps people from having to pay a couple of thousand dollars to add a package that comes with equipment they don’t really want. Oftentimes a consumer will pay $3,000 to get a sunroof because the sunroof is only available with a package including other options they may not want, so an $800-$1200 option now costs $3,000. With Elio, the car is delivered with standard equipment, but can then be completely customized by the owner after market. Because Elio works with automotive suppliers, anything the suppliers manufacture can be added to the car. This includes upgraded audio systems with bluetooth and navigation, or a sunroof, or heated/air-conditioned leather seats. The customization options on this little vehicle are endless, depending on how much the buyer wants to pump into the car. However, those who cannot afford pricey upgrades still receive a great vehicle providing affordable, comfortable and safe transportation.
At first glance, I saw this vehicle as a commuter only application. However, after speaking with Vassallo, I began to realize there are many other consumer groups in their range. Consumers driving an old, beat up car is one such group. Elio will offer a financing option via an Elio credit card. The card will be used to purchase the vehicle, which currently carries an MSRP of $6800. With no money down, the buyer can drive away in a brand new Elio, with an Elio credit card in their wallet. Payments are then calculated on fuel purchases. Say the consumer spends $20 for the month on fuel. When they receive their Elio credit card statement, their payment required would be triple the gas amount, or $60. That is all they will pay for the month on the car. They continue to make payments until the car is paid off in full. While there would be interest paid on the car, there are several benefits to this program.
One such benefit is helping people impacted by the Global Financial Crisis re-establish their credit. It also allows people currently driving old, unsafe “junkers” to move into a new, safe and highly economical vehicle for little cost. Vassallo also sees an oppoturnity for students. Typically once someone enters college, they get bombarded by credit card companies. Purchasing an Elio would allow a student to begin to establish credit, drive an economical car, and have transportation that costs them very little. Vassallo also sees the vehicle appealing to auto enthusiasts. Since it is very new and different to anything on the road, enthusiasts will flock to snap one up and hopefully go nuts with customization.
After speaking with Vassallo, I am very impressed by the Elio. While I do find it a bit odd looking, I think that actually increases it’s cool factor. There are many positives to owning one. The Elio costs less than a Vespa scooter, is classified and insured as a motorcycle, so commuters have access to HOV lanes, is quite safe, and has endless customization options to make it fun for consumers to personalize. Not to mention the economics of the car. With fuel economy as high as 84 mpg on the highway, Elio has the potential to eventually save 8 billion gallons of gas and stop the emission of 160 billions pounds of CO2 annually.
Servicing and modifying your Elio will also be easy. Elio has partnered with Pep Boys to offer service at over 800 locations nationwide. The locations will provide service on the vehicles and also be the home base for customization on the cars. This will be a huge cost savings for Elio as they will not have to build out their own service center infrastructure.
Elio will also be producing jobs here in America. The vehicles will be manufactured in Shreveport, Louisiana, at a former GM plant relinquished as part of their 2009 bankruptcy filing. As a result of the filing, all of the equipment at the plant came with the building. Elio will lease 1.5 million square feet of the facility from Industrial Realty Group, creating new jobs in Shreveport.
Overall the Elio sounds like a smart move for the future of transportation. The size, weight, safety and fuel economy make it a great option for the right buyer. Some in the automotive world question whether Elio Motors has the funding to pull it off, however, with 42,000 orders already placed and passionate people at the helm, I see no reason why this vehicle will not be a success if followed through to production.
I’m excited to get a chance to see the Elio in person when it next visits Los Angeles. You can be sure I’ll be taking it for a test drive and putting it through its paces. Vassallo says one of his favorite things is to get an auto journalist into the vehicle and watch their face light up the first time they take it for a spin. You’ll have to wait for my test drive write up to find out if it gets a grin from me, but if the car is all he promises it is, I have a feeling it will.