The weird three-wheeled shape optimizes aerodynamics by cutting way down on frontal area and giving the car a nearly ideal “teardrop” body. Having only three wheels also allows the Elio car to be, in legal terms, a motorcycle.
That should let the company skate by on much looser safety requirements. But, Elio insists, they don’t plan on taking advantage of that loophole. The car will be tested in regular automobile crash tests and, they insist, it will get top marks.
The prototype car I drove didn’t feel like anything anyone would want to buy. But, it must be pointed out, it really was a prototype. It was noisy — like sitting inside a blender — had a harsh ride and didn’t feel like it was particularly well put together. That’s what you get with prototypes.
Most importantly, the engine was not the final production engine. Rather, it was one “borrowed” from an old three-cylinder Geo Metro subcompact. The new engine will be designed and built specifically for the Elio, and it’s supposed to have advanced features like variable valve lift and timing.
Elio Motors says it’s keeping prices low and chances for success high by keeping things simple. All the parts are being made by established automotive suppliers. The cars will be built in a factory that used to make Hummer H3s and Chevrolet trucks. Even the manufacturing process has been simplified, company executives say. The cars will be built with no options. Most options will be added on after the car is built.
The Elio reminded me of another car: the now defunct Aptera.
The Aptera was an electric car that also used a three-wheel design. It looked like a private aircraft fuselage that was driving itself to the airport. I drove the Aptera back in 2010. That was after years of starts, stalls as the company tried to actually produce its revolutionary new vehicles.
Then, less than a year after I tested the car, Aptera went down for the final time, never having made it to market.
On the other hand, while the Elio car seems crazy and weird, Tesla seemed like a long shot to me once, too. The fact remains, though, start-ups in the auto business have a tough road ahead of them.