Elio Motors is a company that has been making news at the 2014 International CES by showing off their 84mpg, three-wheeled, $6,800 automobile. We had an opportunity to speak with Chip Stempeck, VP of Marketing at Elio Motors, and Stan Krafft of Cooper Tire and Rubber Company about the vehicle and answer some questions that we have about the car.
When we look at this vehicle, the first thing we wonder about is safety. They anticipate having a 5-star safety rating when it is eventually crash tested. While that may seem like a bold claim by looking at it, the Elio does have a full roll cage underneath the sheet metal similar to what might be found on a racing car. There is no denying physics, but all small cars (regardless of crash test rating), can suffer serious damage when hitting a extremely large vehicle. A full cage may actually make this car safer than other vehicles in its class.
Additional standard safety features will include traction control and three airbags. The vehicle also employs a standard three-point safety restraint system, instead of something more elaborate.
Speaking of class, the United States government considers this vehicle a motorcycle. In states that do require a helmet for all motorcycle riders, drivers of the Elio would have to wear a helmet. “We hope common sense previals,” states Stempeck. As the vehicle gets closer to production, and more people start talking about it, states may re-evaluate vehicle classification.
If it does continue to be considered a motorcycle, that will affect insurance and vehicle registration fees. Also, in states that allow motorcycles access to HOV lanes the Elio would also be allowed to use it. Stempeck says that the Elio will reach 0.60 in under 10 seconds and exceed 100 mph. That is faster than any speed limit in the United States.
Fuel economy on the prototype is sitting near 80 mpg on the highway. Cooper Tire is actually developing a special, low-rolling resistance tire for the vehicle to help achieve (and potentially exceed) the 84 mpg mileage claim. This special tire is also extremely environmentally friendly, and may carry a warranty longer than a standard tire warranty (though no official numbers have been announced). A lightweight vehicle, like the Elio, will wear a tire less than a heavier car. Kraft goes on to tell Auto Geeks, “the tires in the front will be narrower than the one in the rear.” This will be to prevent understeer and improve driving dynamics.
Despite being a 3-cylinder engine, there is nothing fancy with it. This means that its 8 gallon fuel tank will gladly accepted regular unleaded gasoline, instead of the higher octane fuel some engines require.
The base $6,800 vehicle will have air conditioning, a heater, a radio, and more. Due to the lower production value and production in the United States, many options will be available. We asked about a vehicle equipped with a rear-view camera, navigation system, and some other niceties, Stempeck believes that it will still sell for $8,000 or less. They believe the options they’ll offer will be less expensive than those from larger OEMs.
We were allowed to sit in the pre-production prototype, and we were impressed with the experience. There seems to be a decent amount of room for the driver, and sitting in a central location makes visibility out of both rear-view mirrors trivial. We cannot comment on interior design and features, because it is a pre-production, but the vehicle does seem pretty far along.
0.28cd was a number that was tossed around, but final exterior design may change slightly to make it more slippery. Visually, it looks like it will cut through the air well, and weighing next to nothing will help hit that mileage number.
Once the final vehicle design is finished, it will be sent to the government for crash testing. When we asked about the launch, instead of being told an ambiguous time, we were told it will ship January of next year. If they can pull off their anticipated safety rating, bring the car to market, and fill their pre-orders on target Elio Motors may have a success on their hands. We are far less skeptical about the product having spoken with them directly, but the end consumer will ultimately decide if it will succeed or fail. We look forward to hearing more about the Elio Motors vehicle as the launch nears, and we will pass it along to you.