All Roads Lead to 2016 for Elio Motors

Elio RS

Elio Motors is a unique auto manufacturer, offering an unusual product with a remarkable value proposition.
The Elio (the company and their car share names) carries a target price of $6,800 with an estimated fuel economy of 84 mpg highway.

To achieve these extraordinary numbers, the company is developing a modern, yet uncomplicated car. Elio wants to offer a fundamentally different alternative to today’s mobility options. Their car is an advanced exercise in integrating components and systems already available through the domestic OEM supplier network. This reduces development cost and time, as well as, de-risks the technology.

Elio’s car is not about making radical technological advances, rather re-imaging how inexpensive, fuel efficient, safe, fun, and practical personal mobility can be.

The Elio is an enclosed three-wheeler with a purpose built 900cc three-cylinder. The front-mounted gasoline engine delivers 55 horsepower to the front wheels. Its slippery appearance is the result of ambitious, anti-drag measures required to achieve its motorcycle-topping fuel efficiency. The diminutive 1,200 pound car will reach 60 mph in 9.6 seconds.

It’s not a track day car or all-weather alternative to the Polaris Slingshot. Think of the Elio as a modern day BMW Isetta.

The car features tandem seating – driver in front, passenger in rear and my 6’1” frame fits comfortably in the front. The ergonomics are intuitive and even familiar, having been cribbed from various vehicles already on the road.

The GM instrumentation may change, but the center-of-vehicle driving position will remain and may require some acclimation.

The rear seat is snug but head and shoulder room will be sufficient for passengers of my size on short trips. Owners will not, however, be taking two people Christmas shopping, unless they limit their purchases to jewelry stores.

Space is efficiently employed, but it’s difficult to overcome the car’s half-size width, so storage is limited to a modest compartment over the rear wheel.

Elio needs to deliver on more than price and fuel economy. Toward that end, every Elio is built with a reinforced roll-cage frame, anti-lock brakes, and over-sized crumple zones at the front and rear. Crash testing will be carried out later this year. The car needs to be a competent driver as well. Thus far, only engineering test mules with place-holder engines have been available to the motoring press. And although the response has been promising and expectations are high, ride and handling quality remain to be evaluated.

Elio prefers to consider its mobility solution peerless, but let’s take a quick look at two potential alternatives. The Ford Fiesta 1.0L EcoBoost achieves 45 mpg highway and starts at $14,925. The Fiesta enjoys an interior space advantage, as well as a more familiar sedan or hatchback layout. The Smart Fortwo is a two-seater starting at $15,400 and offering 39 mpg highway. The price and fuel economy deltas between these potential competitors and the Elio begin to make clear why the company does not see a direct competitor.

At least not yet.

The Elio is scheduled to begin production in late 2016, but consumers have been placing refundable and non-refundable reservations for a couple years. The only difference between these reservations, aside from the obvious, is that non-refundable reservations will be filled first. And the line is getting long: 47,000 reservations have been accepted at an average of $420 each. Perhaps more astounding than the reservation total is that over 90 percent of reservation holders have opted for the non-refundable option. Moreover, the company reports a steady stream of refundable reservation holders converting to nonrefundable, further climbing the reservation queue and increasing their dollar commitments.

As the charismatic Vice President of Sales, Jerome Vassallo, recently told me: “When we began this journey several years ago, we thought we knew our target audience. But we discovered along the way that our product has an appeal far broader than anticipated. We thus pivoted to a grass roots, open-ended marketing approach and have experienced incredible and sustained public support.”

Elio P5

One might expect the car’s staggering fuel economy, bargain price, and unique three-wheel layout to appeal to consumers with a personal ethos of environmental mindedness and budget consciousness.

One may further estimate these people would skew young and toward those who welcome the car’s innate challenge to the status quo. However, this describes just a fraction of Elio’s reservation holders. The vast majority are not Millennials or even Gen X. They are 55-65 year old Baby Boomers who value the car’s 90 percent domestic content and want one as an efficient second vehicle.

Anne and Charlie Simpson are reservation holders from Seattle. They are Baby Boomers who can afford to put any vehicle in their garage. They recently traveled to the Los Angeles Auto Show just to get a look at Elio’s final engineering development unit (the red P5 pictured above).

Anne told me: “We love what Elio is doing by maximizing domestic content, keeping the product simple, and building the car here in the United States. Not only have we placed a reservation and invested in the company, but we have shared the Elio story with others who have placed reservations.”

This is this kind of grass roots support Elio says it is gaining nationwide and is in fact relying on – don’t expect to see Elio commercials during the Super Bowl but don’t be alarmed if you see one in your neighbor’s driveway.

Elio wants to sell hundreds of thousands of cars, if not millions. From there, their similarities with conventional automakers diverge. The company employs a small staff, works with integrated vendor teams, and is largely a crowdfunded endeavor. The $6,800 target price and 84 mpg highway target are eye catching and perhaps unbelievable. But the company stridently rejects that these targets are fantasy.

We will find out next year.

*Seth Parks is an auto industry veteran, entrepreneur, and Seattle Seahawks fan.
Follow him on Twitter: @mseth_parks

About The Author

I have been working in the auto industry for two decades. In high school, way back when Broncos still roamed free, I was a lot attendant at a Ford store. During college I worked as a car salesman and later moved up the retail ladder. After graduate school, I co-founded a fleet management company in Africa. More recently, I sat on the board of a performance auto parts distributor and led the turn-around of a parts manufacturer. I am presently on the boards of two aftermarket auto parts manufacturers. I am an equal opportunity auto enthusiast, father of two, happy husband, and dedicated global traveler.

18 Comments on "All Roads Lead to 2016 for Elio Motors"

  1. Seth Parks

    Good question. This is exactly what makes Elio an interesting story to follow in 2016 – all of their objectives will either be achieved or missed next year.

    • Tim Jr.

      It’s all about the $$$ now.. they’ve had a design for a while, been refining it.. but you cannot build it unless the $$ comes; so too speak.. The last round of sock offerings were filled .. so they are moving forward with the 25 crash and test engineering models.. The big IF is the Gov’t loan they put in for.. IF that comes through, it’s a done deal.. If it doesn’t…. we’ll .. who knows.

  2. DonC

    I haven’t put down a deposit for a vehicle off the assembly line,….. but I HAVE purchased 100 shares of Elio stock.

    ….. If Elio can pull off a “WalMart”,….. I’ll be a multi-millionaire in twenty years.

    Or I may have pissed away two weeks vacation pay.

    …..(I’m hoping it’s the first scenario).

  3. David Arellanes

    My wife and I love the idea and concept of the Elio. We traveled from Arkansas to Georgia to see and sit in an Elio. We were impressed. We have made a “All In” reservation for one of our own AND purchased 100 Shares of Elio stock also. We are both hoping for the FIRST SENERIO from the above comment, too. By the way I am in my 60’s….and I can’t say how old my wife is. I’m not that crazy!

  4. Tom Hansen, Hot Springs, Arkansas

    I believe we are witnessing Automotive history in the making! I want to be apart of it and have a $1000 non refundable and a $100 refundable order for two vehicles and I bout 50 shares of stock! I think the path that Elio motors is taking is a sound strategy and proposition. I am very anxious as are many others to see and drive our new vehicles!

  5. Gerry R.

    We have a reservation number under 15,000, and we’ve purchased 100 shares of stock.
    Putting our faith in an American company led by an American willing to take a chance on improving the world.
    That’s what America is all about.

  6. Talon

    I have a $22,000+ BMW motorcycle I get about 45-50 mpg and I ride it all over America in all kinds of weather.

    I’ve got a non-refundable in for a vehicle that will potentially give me better mileage at 1/3 the price, no helmet, A/C, heat (no gloves), automatic, cruise control, my tunes, GPS hmmmm made in America – I’ll take two please!

    BTW the two vehicles this article offers as competition at more than twice the price and half the MPG????? What am I missing?

    • Seth Parks

      Talon – You aren’t missing anything. The point is the one you made. Namely, that the Elio does not have any direct competition. I selected those to represent two of the closest mainstream near-peers for readers not familiar with the low-price end of the market. My hope was that by showing the fuel economy and prices for those two products it would underline just how far beyond what the current market offers Elio is pushing.

  7. Rod

    I have worked on the other side of the automotive business for nearly 30 years, both in the US and abroad. I survived the splurge & purge cycles, have seen mainstream ideas fail and the quirky ones succeed. I have followed Elio Motors for some time, about ready to make a reservation, look forward to potentially working for them in Shreveport. I think it will be a home run, if not a grand slam….

    • Seth Parks

      It’s an exciting company to watch. They have cleared several major hurdles already. Just being operational at this point is impressive.

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