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Home » Auto Ownership

A New Car with 84 MPG at $6,800? Would you Buy an Elio Motors Car?

Last updated by on 36 Comments

I’m a bit of a car geek when it comes to automotive fuel efficiency gains.

But I’ve grown a bit cynical over the years. You see, every now and then a tiny car will come along that promises to revolutionize the way we get around and dramatically slice transportation costs and environmental impact. Then it fizzles out.

I remember when the Smart Car was released in the U.S. It had a clever name, distinct look, good fuel efficiency, and a low cost. It offered a lot of promise. But after the initial buzz faded, Smart turned out to be a dud. If you want to market and actually sell a car that requires consumers to sacrifice utility, you better offer both of the following:

  1. An extremely low price
  2. Outstanding fuel efficiency. Fuel efficiency is the #1 automotive purchase consideration across all segments. For small cars, there isn’t a close second.

Unfortunately, Smart was not really successful with either. Its 34 city and 38 highway fuel efficiency is good, but not for its size. It is only 2-3 mpg’s higher than some much larger gas-only models. And its $14,020 price tag is now higher than the Nissan Versa (a much larger 5-seat car with an optional hatchback). Quite literally, you’re paying the same price for less than half the car when you buy a Smart. The result? Smart only sold 9,200 cars in the United States in 2013.

Herein lies the problem. Americans are viewed as wanting big and fast vehicles and fails like the Smart are used to reconfirm those beliefs. I know this isn’t a true blanket stereotype for everyone, but multi-billion dollar multinational automakers tend to see things in black and white and don’t like taking risks to explore new niches. So innovation is severely lacking.

It took an ambitious and daring rebel billionaire (Elon Musk) to force some true efficiency innovation in the marketplace with electric vehicles via Tesla. And now, a much less wealthy rebel, Paul Elio, hopes to do the same in a gasoline-powered vehicle through Elio Motors.

Elio Motors

When the 3-wheeled, tandem-seated Elio first started making the rounds in the media a while back, I didn’t really pay much attention because I’ve been heartbroken before. But the media attention has been hard to ignore lately. So I started looking in to it a bit more. And now, I think Elio has a legit shot at making it. Why?

  1. It will only cost $6,800, with some nice standard features (AC, AM/FM/Aux/Bluetooth, power locks/windows). This is less than half the cost of any other new vehicle on the market.
  2. Despite no high-priced batteries in its drivetrain, it is anticipated to be rated at 84 mpg highway and 49 mpg city. This is more than 2X the efficiency of any other gas-only vehicle on the market. It does this by being extremely lightweight through using half the materials of a normal car and “smartly” using tandem style 2-person seating to streamline aerodynamics (vs. the standard side-to-side). It also has a fuel-sipping 0.9 liter, 3-cylinder engine.

On top of that, it has a cool, unique look to it, and promises to have 90% of its supply-chain materials come from North American suppliers (it will be manufactured at a former Hummer plant in Louisiana, oddly). The Elio also claims to have addressed the safety concerns typically associated with small vehicles with an anticipated 5-star crash rating on all four sides and three airbags.

My enthusiasm is genuine and I am definitely not alone – the Elio already has nearly 27,000 paid reservations.

Now, lets be clear – this car still has long odds to make it to market and even if it does, I don’t expect it to become a mainstream best-seller or sell the 250,000 units per year the company is hoping for. However, if it does make it to market, this car could easily fill the automotive needs for the following niches:

  1. Urban and even suburban commuter (76% of all American workers drive to work alone)
  2. Second family car
  3. Minimalist hipster
  4. Low and low-middle class old, inefficient high-mileage beater alternative

For these groups – what other vehicles on the market come close to providing the same value?

You could never take the family on a vacation with an Elio or even make a Costco run with the spouse, but if it can adequately fill those four niches better than other alternatives, I can see it succeeding.

The biggest challenge it will face is funding. As previously noted, there is no rebel billionaire here – Elio has had to bootstrap its funding the hard way. Elio has raised $55 million thus far, but is still quite a ways off from the $200 million it needs to roll out full production. Starting an automotive company is not cheap. And there will be plenty of regulatory hurdles to overcome. It’s a long shot, but hopefully a well-funded competitor catches on to the concept, if Elio does not take off.

Since I ride a bike to work and live right on a bus line, I personally won’t be purchasing an Elio unless my job situation changes. But I sure as hell would like to test drive one anyways. ;-)

Would you buy an Elio if it comes to market?

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36 Comments »
  • Looks hideous! I can see the financial benefits but the sacrifice in style is not worth it in my opinion.

  • Tex says:

    Being that my monthly gas cost me more than my truck, I would be very interested in something like this. Have already looked into an old small car, but at 30 miles a gallon the car would probably break down before I received any return on investment. My goal with this car, would not have been something stylish, so the looks of this wouldn’t entirely throw me off. Only thing that competes price and gas wise would be a motorcycle.

  • Trevor says:

    It makes me think of a better less electric version of the Corbin sparrow. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers_Motors_NmG

  • Tom says:

    Maybe you can put a basket on front for trips to the grocery store.

  • I would consider it. I see a car as a method of transportation to get me from point a to point b

  • Mike F says:

    I wonder if it qualifies as a car or motorcycle. It would be a shame to need a motorcycle license to drive it but most 3 wheel vehicles in states I am familiar with require a motorcycle license.

  • jorge says:

    I’ve been looking at this car for over a year now and we sat in the previous prototype when they were in California. me and my wife agree that the best way to view this is an air conditioned, weather proof scooter. I think I would get one if we ever needed a second car for me to get to work and back. I honestly love the idea of this product but I don’t think enough people will buy them to keep them around.If you look up mini car museum on YouTube you will find a video of hundreds of small extremely fuel efficient cars that promised the same thing but went out of business.

  • I was actually very VERY close to putting down a payment for a reservation for one of these cars 2 years ago. I was commuting about 85 miles round trip everyday so it would have been perfect for that. Since then, I’ve ended up changing jobs to one where I can take the bus to work instead (or if I have the time, even walk).

    I’m glad I didn’t put down the payment for the car since if it’s still not out to the market yet then that’s pretty disappointing. I feel like they must have pushed back timelines on the release date. The only thing that saved me from putting down a pre-payment was because I didn’t like the idea of giving the company an interest free loan for over a year just to stand in line. Whereas if I just invested the money then I would be able to make money with that money while I wait.

    I still think that this market could be large enough for them to survive, but gas prices aren’t rising as fast as they used to be so that’s not in favor of this car. I think it’s when gas prices get to insane levels this car will be much more desired. If electric cars could get some better range and still be affordable then this company might not survive. For now I like it but in 15 years…. I wouldn’t buy stock in this company for the long term is all I’m saying.

  • Michael says:

    I hadn’t seen this before, thanks for posting about it. This would fit my needs perfectly!

  • SD LURKER says:

    Show me the crash test data…then I might buy become a believer.

  • Ryan Deuschle says:

    I reserved one, I love its look, the fuel economy and the fact that it is bold forward thinking American ingenuity. I was (and still am) waiting for Tesla to make a car that I can afford, but until then, this little car will do nicely and get almost double the MPG I get in my 2005 Honda Insight.

  • JoeTaxpayer says:

    Say I average 60mpg. I’m just about 20mpg now, so the 20,000 miles take me 1000gal or about $3500/yr. this car would save me 2/3 of that and quickly pay for itself.

    I agree, similar to a short distance electric car, this would make a great second family car.

    For me, it’s a question of safety. A highway accident can make me a statistic. I’d rather walk away from a totaled car than get myself killed. Safety, first. I’d have to see how solid this car is.

  • Tom says:

    While I can appreciate the ingenuity behind this and hope that many people use it, I don’t find myself in the target user group. As somebody who does a lot of DIY projects, I’d rather of something that can haul a trailer like a truck or van. Still, I think I can tackle a lot of the same energy issues (and more!) by using 100% ethanol fuel.

    Called “Liquid Solar” it has some interesting ramifications including:
    – net sequestration of CO2 looking at cradle to grave
    – greater longevity of engine life due to cleaner fuel
    – dependence on American farmers for fuel source, not middle east
    – potentially equal performance (need to educate myself more here), although currently cars are designed to peak performance on gasoline, not ethanol.

    Interesting stuff though, I’m currently working my way through a book called “Alcohol can be a gas!” by David Blume. I highly recommend it if you are curious about energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.

    Also: http://www.americanenergyindependence.com/alcoholengines.aspx

    • Rip Torn says:

      Ethanol is a net fossil fuel consumer. It costs more to grow, harvest, and process the corn than it would cost if you simply burned the oil in your car!

      Ethanol from corn is the biggest scam perpetrated on the American taxpayer by the Farm Industrial Complex EVER!

  • J. Money says:

    “Minimalist hipster” haha… I’d most def. test drive it and consider it, primarily as our 2nd car. You paint that bad boy black and it’s like having your own Batmobile!

  • Matt says:

    I’d seriously consider it as it ticks the main boxes.
    Fuel economy, while not TOP on my list, has to be good enough to even make my list. The other thing that knocks things off my list is the safety.
    As Smart showed, you don’t have to be big to be safe. Smart’s problem was being the baby of a european market where his vehcile prices are the norm.
    In fact, without doing research, I’d say you pay the same for a car in $ as you do in UKP, that makes cars in the UK 60% more expensive than the almost identical car in the US. Smarts sell well there because price wise it is comparable.
    SO while an Elio would get my consideration, I’m afraid I still wouldn’t buy one, but that’s because not leveraging electrical motors is, in my mind, the single biggest setback for any car emerging on the stage today. 100% hydrocarbons simple doesn’t make sense any more.

  • Rip Torn says:

    I would buy one. I’ve been waiting for someone to carry through on this concept.

    The safety issue isn’t a big concern, as it is a far safer alternative to a motorcycle!

  • Eric Davila says:

    I don’t see the point in comparing a Smart to a Versa, and then stating the problem relates to an American stereotype of wanting bigger and faster cars using 2 cars in the same price range as examples. Simply because a new idea is presented doesn’t mean its a good one, and Smart is making a smaller car for about the same amount of money as a bigger one with about the same fuel economy. Bad idea for many people. I do think its a great idea what Elio is doing, and its justifiable purchase compared to a Smart. However, having a bigger car is a preference and the counter argument would be why buy a smaller vehicle with similar features compared to a larger one for the same price?

  • Kim says:

    I like the idea of this car, but I imagine it would be difficult to take through the drive-thru with the distance between the front left wheel and the driver side window.

  • Michelle says:

    I would absolutely buy this as my commuter car. I am moving home to suburban NJ but work is on Staten Island. I’ll have a apartment in Brooklyn that I will be at during work shifts, but driving into, out of, and around NYC for work, I would love a small car like this. The price is right for me to buy one w/ no payments. I like the 3-wheel premise and while I wouldn’t buy it in orange, I would definitely pick this car up as a very cost-effective, fuel-efficient commuter vehicle.

  • Billy says:

    I saw this same car back in the seventies. They would drive it to cities all over America and try to get locals to support it but it was just a scam to get citizens money. My neighbor who was a business owner was solicited but said no thanks as far as I knew.

    • Billy says:

      This is a different car though and its time is here.
      I am for saving fuel.
      I drive for a living and this would be good for high mileage workers.
      The car from 1975 looked very very similar.
      Same three wheel design.
      I would buy if I needed low volume cargo work.

  • It’s kind of a neat idea, and if I lived in a less rural area, I might consider buying one myself. Alas, I do live in a very rural area and I know that not only would I be considered “crazy” for owning one, it truly wouldn’t be very practical for driving up and down country roads, nor would it fulfill all my vehicle/space needs. But again, a good idea for those in a different situation.

  • Well it looks kind of cool to me. I am sure I would get some looks but with that kind of MPG and price I would definitely purchase it. I think as the years pass, we will get away from so much luxury and cars we may be use to and instead go the frugal route. Thanks for sharing.

  • Warren says:

    I remember driving my friend’s Honda, the fir car Honda made. It was satirically described as a motorcycle with a really big helmet attached. After one trip in that cramped little thing, I never got in one again until Honda made cars larger. On the other hand, I was often on a Honda motorcycle.

    This seems like it might be a good choice for someone who would want the MPG of a motorcycle without having to worry about weather. It is also a much more visible item for other drivers to see.

    While weight and engine size are often pointed out as factors in MPG, in city driving the hybrids and electric cars have the functionality of regenerative braking. Regenerative breaking would help any car’s fuel economy, not just electric. Since this car would quite often be used as a local commuting vehicle, it would be nice to see regenerative braking, which could be some technology other than electric. The 84 MPG on the highway is mentioned often on the company’s web page. I don’t see a city estimate for MPG.

    On the highway, the amount of front facing surface (total of width by height) determines the amount of air the car has to push out of the way to travel. This vehicle reduces that by being only one passenger wide. Needing less power to push less air out of the way is a big factor in the smaller engine size.

  • Kris says:

    I have been driving a 95 civic dx for a few years and average around 45mpg highway and city combined. The worst mpg I have got with it was 40, so I am pretty happy with it, However my concerns in a smaller car is always “What happens if I get hit” or anything like that. The size and safety concerns me most on the Elio car, I love the idea of over 60mpg and find the cost well worth it, but around here we still have to travel on 2 lane roads semi-frequently and there are alot of those excessively oversided ford, chevy, dodge and toyota trucks. I figure if I got hit by one of those it could be the end of me and anyone else in the car, that is definitely my biggest concern.. If there were small-car only roads I would likely buy that in a second.

  • Kas says:

    Residing in MO the helmet law question still got me on the side line. I did pose the question by email on how the handling if the back tire has a blow out. The Honda Civic that runs on CNG, except refueling on the road is a joke.

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