POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 18, 2014
ROYAL OAK, Mich. » Your next commuter car could have two seats, three wheels and get 84 miles to the gallon.
Elio Motors wants to revolutionize U.S. roads with its tiny car, which is the same length as a Honda Fit but half the weight. With a starting price of $6,800, it's also less than half the cost.
Phoenix-based Elio plans to start making the cars next fall at a former General Motors plant in Shreveport, La. Already, more than 27,000 people have reserved one. Elio hopes to make 250,000 cars a year by 2016. That's close to the number Mazda sells in the U.S.
Because it has three wheels — two in front and one in the rear — the Elio is actually classified as a motorcycle by the U.S. government. But company founder Paul Elio says the vehicle has all the safety features of a car, like anti-lock brakes, front and side air bags and a steel cage that surrounds the occupants. Drivers won't be required to wear helmets or have motorcycle licenses.
The Elio's two seats sit front and back instead of side by side, so the driver is positioned in the center with the passenger directly behind. That arrangement, plus the low seating position — the Elio is just 54 inches tall — and the lack of power steering take a little getting used to.
But the Elio feels like any other small car, partly because its two front wheels stick out by a foot on both sides, aiding balance and preventing the vehicle from tipping. The Elio has a three-cylinder, 0.9-liter engine and a top speed of more than 100 miles per hour. It gets an estimated 84 mpg on the highway and 49 mpg in city driving.
The car only has one door, which shaves a few hundred dollars in manufacturing costs. It will be offered with manual or automatic transmission and has standard air conditioning, power windows and door locks and an AM/FM radio.
Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said low price might work for the Elio.
"If it really gets 84 mpg and doesn't drive terribly, it would justify the compromises you're making in size and comfort," he said.
Elio will also save money by selling the cars directly through its own stores and not through franchised dealers, similar to electric car maker Tesla Motors.
Dee-Ann Durbin, Associated Press