What To Make of Elio Motors?

Elio Motors in NYC 1

A few weeks ago, my friend, Alex, sent me this photo of a crazy-looking car I had never seen before. He told me it was called an “Elio”, so I searched around on Google to find out more about it.

Made by a brand new company, Elio Motors, this 3-wheeler may well revolutionize the auto industry in the coming years. It may look fast, and far-out, but really it is economical and wonderfully simple. I had a chance to get up close with the Elio prototype at the New York International Auto Show this past weekend, and since then I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the Elio.

The Elio’s Proposition By The Numbers:

3 Wheels, 2 Seats, 3 cylinders, 60hp, 1,200lbs, and 84 MPG, all for a price of… $6,800.

So What Should We All Make of the Elio?

Elio Motors in NYC 2 Elio Car Parking

It is a economical car unlike any we’ve yet seen, so cheap that it’s only direct competition comes from questionable used cars.

But the Elio is also impossibly cool. In fact, I’d wager that if you drove an orange Elio through town, and then drove an orange Lamborghini through town, the Elio would turn more heads.

Now, that exotic appeal may change once Elio Motors is selling 250,000 cars per year, as they hope to, but for now this 3-wheeler draws quite a crowd. People love it because it is cool, and most importantly, they can actually have one!

Not only can people have an Elio, but they probably all should, at least by the numbers. Other than a bicycle, transportation doesn’t get more affordable than this. Let’s compare the Elio to the smallest, cheapest Toyota Prius, the Prius C.

-The Prius C costs around $21,000 with taxes and delivery.
-The Elio costs around $7,000 with taxes and delivery
You can buy three Elios for the price of one Prius C

-The Prius C gets 53 MPG city, and 46 MPG highway
-9.5 gallon fuel tank offers up to 503 miles of range.

-The Elio gets 49 MPG city, and 84 MPG highway
-8 gallon fuel tank offers up to 672 miles of range.
The Elio obliterates the Toyota Prius in fuel economy

Say the value drops by half after 5 years of ownership
-With a Prius C, you will have lost $10,500 in depreciation ($2,100/year).
-With an Elio, you will have lost $3,500 in depreciation ($700/year)
Lower cost equals lower hits on depreciation

I think those numbers speak for themselves.

Elio Car Interior Elio Motors Snow

What about fun?

Happily the Elio comes with the option of a 5 speed manual transmission, in addition to its 5 speed automatic. Being just 1,200lbs, it will surely be lively and nimble to drive. Paul Elio is also a self-proclaimed car enthusiast, so I’m confident that his car will be entertaining to drive.

In terms of speed, it’s obviously no Ferrari, but there are slower vehicles on the road. 0-60 happens in the 9 second range, and the top speed is around 107mph. Basically it is about as fast as a first-gen Mazda Miata, just front wheel drive instead of rear wheel drive. But anything sporty is a total bonus in a car like this, so just be happy if it’s even remotely fun.

How can a car that small be safe?

If you get broadsided by a truck going 50mph, you’re screwed… in an Elio, in a Prius, in an Accord, in a BMW, and pretty much anything that isn’t a tank. If that scares you, then you probably shouldn’t leave the safety of your own basement, because the world is a terrifying and dangerous place.

For those with reasonable expectations of safety, the Elio is about as safe as a car its size can possibly be. Its design features larger crumble-zones than many other small cars, and it even has a roll-cage built into its frame.

Elio vs Honda Fit Paul Elio in the trunk

What about the practicality?

Anyone who has ever lived with a Mazda Miata knows how most people can make this car work in their daily lives. Like a Miata, the Elio has two seats and a small trunk. The difference is that the two seats are one in front of the other, like a fighter jet.

I tried out the back seat for myself in New York. I’m 5’11 and of a stocky build, and I fit just fine with a friend sitting in the driver seat. Compared to my friend’s Ford Fiesta, there was around the same head room, and probably more leg room.

Many people can probably make an Elio work as their only car. But Elio Motors is also marketing it largely as an “And Car”… as in you have big practical car AND an Elio to drive when you don’t need that much space. Used in such a way, fuel savings would be significant, especially if your other vehicle is a truck or an SUV… or more my style, a manual Cadillac CTS-V Wagon with the Hennessey 700 package.

Who should buy an Elio?

Almost anyone should be able to make the financial case for buying an Elio, even if they have other cars. It’s a great, low-cost option for people on an actual $7,000 budget, but it’s also a great option for people who can write a check for $7 grand without thinking.

I’m interested in getting one as a daily commuter, so I can waste more money on the fast cars I really want. My parents, on the other hand, want one for the beach, so they can spend more money being retired and rowdy. The Elio works for many applications.

Elio Motors 3 Wheel Car

Challenges for Elio Motors

If it’s not already obvious, I think Elio Motors has a great thing going here, but there is a lot they must consider if they will be able to deliver when the car goes on sale in 2016.

Over 41,000 people have already placed an order for an Elio, well within their current factory’s 250,000 unit-per-year capacity. But if the car winds up being as good as I hope it is, the biggest challenge for Elio will be filling the ensuing flood of orders in an acceptable amount of time. Second car people can wait around, but $7,000 budget customers generally need their cars right away.

Making a great promise is one thing, but delivering on it is EVERYTHING. If Elio Motors delivers, then we could be looking at the next Model T or Volkswagen Beetle.

Elio Motors is going to have to prove the safety of the car to the masses. I get what they’ve done in theory, but I won’t be totally convinced until a few people smash one and walk away fine. Elio Motors can’t really do that, but they can show various crash tests publicly in order to reassure potential buyers.

Build quality will be a big question mark for the Elio, up front. Elio built their own 0.9L 3-cylinder engine for the car, and most of us know automakers rarely, if ever, get things right the first time. Having said that, the general mechanics of the Elio are quite simple, so if it’s built well, then there’s no reason it shouldn’t be reliable. Time will tell all, and there will surely be some issues, but it’s how Elio Motors deals with those issues that will really matter.

Elio Motors Colors

If executed well, the Elio could change the whole industry

The Elio may cost less than half the money of a Chevy Spark, Nissan Versa Note, or a Honda Fit, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be robbing them of sales. Where those vanilla hatchbacks are boring and dull, an Elio will drop your jaw and make you go “Daaaaamn!” It’s also A LOT less costly than any of them, twice as fuel efficient, and probably more fun.

If it does succeed, please believe that the Elio is only the beginning of a lot more to come from Elio Motors, but there is a lot of ground for them to cover between now and then.

If the car is everything Elio Motors is promising, then the question people will be asking isn’t “Why should I buy one”, but more “Why shouldn’t I buy one.” It makes so much damn sense in theory, but Elio Motors will have to deliver a solid product to make it a reality.

I look forward to getting behind the wheel of an Elio as soon as cars are available to write a full, hands on review.

I am definitely a believer at this point, and a likely customer if they deliver.

-Nick Walker

PS: Oh, and just in case you’re wondering…. It’s American!
Elio with F-22 Fighter Jet

30 thoughts on “What To Make of Elio Motors?”

  1. Thank you for your excellent evaluation, expression and opinion of the Elio. I enjoyed reading your article and will enjoy even more when you write the next one after driven and Elio. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As one of the reservation holders I can assure you that a majority of us are questioning many of the claims you wrote about. Before sending hard earned $$$ Facebook Elio Straight Talk or any of the other sites before you make a decision. Many of us have serious doubts that any of us will ever see this dream car..so many promises, so many lies and so many delays. Expressing our concerns on Eliot’s Facebook gets us kicked off and our comments and questions deleted so be aware that their Facebook is not an accurate portrayal of reservation holders. My opinion is the car will never be produced.


    1. Such risk is the beauty and the fun in the pursuit, though. I’m pretty confident you will have your car in due time. I think the big issue will be filling the flood of orders that come after the car is shown to be solid. That will be a real test of Elio’s ability to scale.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Victoria B Dunn, you my dear represent a VERY VERY small minority of those who have put up money for an Elio! What YOUR EXACT ISSUE is I do not know nor do I care! I put up my money for something that is novel, unique, desperately needed, well designed, well priced, and AMERICAN made, and if it does not get into production then I lose my up front cash! Which is a hell of a lot less than either of my marriages cost me or income taxes when I was working. And “YOUR ASSURANCE THAT THE MAJORITY OF US ARE QUESTIONING MANY OF THE CLAIMS”… is, to be mild about it, bs!


    3. A majority of us? Wrong. How do you know what 20,500 people are saying? Stop with your lying and whining. Another thing, missing a “projected production date” isn’t exactly a lie. Grow up.


    4. Can you name one lie? I have followed the elio for about a year and I am not aware of any. They are VERY clear that there is no guarantee of a vehicle for those putting deposits down. Yes there are delays. I am expecting more delays if they don’t get significant funding in the next 3 months.


  3. Nicely written. It’s not your fault you haven’t had time to do much research.
    You can buy a Prius C. You cannot buy an Elio. Paul Elio has said that the vehicle would cost $7,300 if produced today, but it can’t be produced today because they are $230,000,000 (yes, 230 million dollars) short of funds.

    The Prius C is rated at 54mpg city, which beats Elio’s claim (not rating) of 49mpg city.
    Since Elio has never built a vehicle with their new engine, the claims of speed and acceleration, as well as safety and fuel economy, are all based on computer simulations, and have not been testing in the real world. They have never had any independent confirmation of any of their performance claims.

    While the idea is a good one, and the cause seems just, Elio has repeatedly missed dates for production and other milestones. The company claims to have raised $65,000,000, but appear to have gone through most of that and appear to be living hand-to-mouth off of new non-refundable reservations.

    They offer both refundable and non-refundable reservations, but the non-refundables are completely one-sided. If you cancel, you don’t get your money back. If they don’t produce, you don’t get your money back.

    As you said, making a great promise is one thing, but delivering on that promise is everything. So far, Elio is all promise and no deliver.


    1. Yes, but since when did you ever think that starting a new car company is easy, and can happen at the snap of a finger. Not to mention, Elio is going into the most challenging part of the market where mass production is everything. Its a lot easier to start a boutique exotic car company where you charge seven figures for your car and sell maybe ten per year.

      What I’m saying is cut Elio some slack because they are clearly progressing, despite the obstacles. And of course they’re in the hole, they haven’t sold any cars yet. But this car has Model T potential if they do it right, so it may well be worth the risk.

      If you aren’t comfortable with possibly losing your $100-1000 deposit, then don’t make one. Simple as that. Progress takes risk, and thats what you pay to be a part of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

        I never said it was easy. Elio missed their own deadlines, not mine. They are not clearly progressing. They have 3 show cars and a two-minute engine video to show for $65 million dollars. The show cars have none of the advertised features. They have not produced a single pre-production quality prototype, even though they claim to have spend half a million dollars on the vehicle you sat in.

        Your advice is good, however. If you are not comfortable with the sure knowledge that you will be losing your $100-$1000, you should not make a reservation. Production according to their current projections is no longer possible, No investors are going to fund this project, as the risk-reward ratio is far too high. Far too many bad decisions have been made for this project to succeed in its current direction. Elio will continue to pick up a number of low-information enthusiasts for a while, but the big-dollar investors will take your advice and pass.


      2. You are wrong. There has been no progression in 12+ months. It’s been 100% a funding hold-up on progress… the car is near ready to go. Now Elio just needs money and can’t get it- and there is no reason why other than bad upper management. No one withe business experience in charge. Its just too bad.


    2. Excellent article ndubs77! Thanks for your efforts and your research.

      Fred, I respect your opinion, but respectfully disagree on some of your statements. EM appears to have gone through most of their money and living hand-to-mouth off new reservations? Really. That’s your opinion, I’ve not seen evidence of it.

      The non-refundable reservations are completely one-sided? Well, that’s the definition of non-refundable. If a person wants to possibly get their money back, get the refundable reservation.

      Many people have a problem with a car maker basing claims from computer simulations. I’m not sure why, as all car makers use computer simulations. It saves time, money, materials, etc.

      Very few of us have tried to create a start-up vehicle company. We want the vehicle to appear in front of us, and have it be high quality, filled with many if not all of the available features, and at the same time we want the car maker to have crash-tested several of them. Those things take time. As a car maker, and really any type of business, you have to plan the work, then work the plan.

      Yes, Elio Motors has missed their own deadlines, and it’s extremely frustrating to see it. But every startup company misses their own deadlines. Tesla, for example, has missed many deadlines in their startup life. Yes, Tesla has built and sold vehicles, and Elio Motors hasn’t.

      I’m assuming that your statement of “they are not clearly progressing” means that they don’t have vehicles crash tested, no vehicles built other than 3 prototypes. Surely Elio Motors has an “Easy” button somewhere, they just need to push it, and seven vehicles all painted differently with many of their options will appear. Elio Motors is clearly progressing: they have secured a plant in Shreveport, LA … they have a newly designed engine specifically made for the Elio vehicle, and it is in at least month 4 of testing. They have Pep Boys lined up as the service centers. They have 34 world class suppliers lined up for components. They have 41,500+ reservations to date, which don’t include fleet reservations. They have Infinite Skyz lined up to provide Wi-Fi, remote observation, back up camera, etc.

      One thing they don’t have is the funding, and if money isn’t provided in the multiple paths they are chasing, yes you are right the vehicle won’t happen.

      What Elio Motors is doing is very, very hard. It’s easy to cross one’s arms, sit back and say “oh man are they EVER going to fail”. They might fail. But they might succeed.

      No investors are going to fund this project? We’ll see. 🙂 I am a low-money enthusiast, but there are hundreds of us that are high-information enthusiasts.


    3. Fred, I don’t want or need a Prius, though I could afford one. Paul Elio said at the start of January that they were within $500 of their target goal of $6,800msrp and continue to work on it and believes they will get there. Personally I think Elio Motors has been quite ambiguous what they need to get to production; from a total of $300 million, to just an additional $175 million to add to the $65 million they already raised, to $240 million, to $230 million you indicate, there’s lots of stories why. There is this thing called math that engineers use to design, test and eventually build things – all the big automotive companies do the same thing, so does NHTSA. Do you believe AIV which built and is testing their engine, and Altair which has done their crash simulations are risking their reputations providing Elio Motors with inaccurate information on the engine and crash simulations? Elio Motors has missed dates and milestones like other companies have, e.g.Tesla still isn’t profitable, though it losing less. The refundable reservations from Elio Motors is just that, refundable, the money is held in escrow, one needs to ask the company for their money back if they decide they want a refund.


    4. I agree- everything you state is 100% correct- I too have done the research. The concept is great- they just won’t be able to deliver due to funding issues. PERIOD.


      1. They won’t ever get funding? Where did you hear that? I don’t understand how someone can make an assumption about the future like that. There are 41,000 customers waiting to get their vehicle produced from the factory that already exists and the equipment that is already there… I don’t see how any of that points to “…won’t be able to deliver… Period.” Seems a bit short sighted.

        You will never be loved. (Did that make it true just because I said it? Maybe. Better be careful)


  4. There’s a question nobody seems to be asking. A lot of these web-based articles read like promotional fluff and always compare Paul Elio to Eon Musk. Fair enough. We are all aware of Musk’s track record prior to his founding of Tesla. It was a track record of astounding success including his part in making Paypal what it is today.

    What was Elio’s track record prior to Elio Motors? How many million dollar start-ups was he responsible for? What was his most successful product prior to the Elio? Can anyone give us a list of companies in which Elio was the CEO or CFO? Why am I unable to find any trace of Elio’s CV on the internet? Why should we trust Paul Elio any more than we should trust the Nigerian Prince who also is very adept at making grand promises in the hopes that we will send him money?


    1. Musk started a company with his brother, sold it, started another one that was absorbed by the company that eventually made PayPal… Sold his shares of that… and started a car company. Way to go. He wasn’t even IN the auto industry and managed to do it. Paul Elio was an engineer and worked in the auto industry. He ran his own company (like Musk did) but wasn’t as successful at it. True. It was a different time and a different industry (one that even juggernauts like GM and Chrysler failed in at the same time) but it’s unfair to compare Paul Elio to some fake prince. Paul was actually IN the industry and has invested a lot of his time and money to making this a success. Why should we trust him? Because he has a lot more to lose than I do should this fail.


  5. the comparison to a Prius C. Or a fit. Or just about any of those supposed ‘boring’ cars seems a bit odd. Kinda missed some of the parts. 1) they all have 4 seats 2) they all can hold a lot more cargo 3) they all have way more technological options. Oh and 4) while this guy has a man crush on the design. I am pretty sure a majority of people will laugh at the site of this going down a highway. Just like a smart car. Oh and 5) I can’t think of ANY 3 wheeled car that could out handle 4 wheeled cars. Push it hard enough and it may just tip

    So is it an option for people looking for a cheap micro car? Of course. Is it going to be the next big thing since sliced bread? Hahaha nooooo. I think a certain writer drank the marketing kool aid.


    1. I never said it would be the best performing/handling car around. In fact, yesterday I posted an article talking about how most enthusiasts will still buy a Miata or something more fun than the Elio for the same money.

      That said, the Elio isnt about all-out performance at all, it’s about cheap transportation. Not unlike the purpose of the Ford Model T and VW Beetle. In other words, the Elio has the potential to be a huge seller if executed right.

      I haven’t drank any marketing Kool Aid, I assure you. I simply have shared my honest opinion on the car with the info available at this point. There are surely many questions left to be answered, as I stated in the article.


    2. Busses have more seats than the Prius. Why don’t we all drive busses? Oh yeah, I remember. Last time I drove to work, I was by myself. Seems stupid to carry a lot of unnecessary weight. On a daily basis, I (and probably at least 2 or 3 other people in the world) only need one seat to get me to work.

      On another note… two wheels up front and one in the back is actually kind of hard to flip… there isn’t as much traction in the back as a four wheeler so they kind of slide rather than grip the road so hard they flip. Can you flip one? Sure, but it will take a lot of effort. Old Honda three wheel races were funny to watch because with one wheel up front and two in the back, they would turn over if you just thought about turning. (Yes, I had one). The Elio… it’s wider in the front than a LOT of small cars so that is going to make the front end more stable in a turn. The back will have a lot less traction so it won’t be able to grab the road very hard. You may be surprised that with it’s (very) low center of gravity and wider stance, the Elio may be more stable than most cars.


  6. I am an Elio reservation holder (#6922).
    I think: be cautious.
    No production or sales dates mean much of anything – until – the needed ($200 million) funding is secured.

    Mid-2016 is the (presently extended by 6 months) contract deadline for producing the (1,500) promised “JOBS” in Caddo Parrish … (where the Shreveport Louisiana former GM facility, part of which Elio Motors has leased, is located) … after which deadline, penalties are imposed.

    This Elio Motors autocycle is my last-bet opportunity to own an automobile. I don’t mean, just neat-o (relatively superficial) stuff about quirky fashions or “looks” or trends, or even buying some $1,000 clunker (due to disability, no longer able to do the restoration & repairs – or afford to pay it out to repair shops).
    I mean: to be ABLE to get to the store on my own: to buy food to eat, to do laundry, to travel independently to medical appointments, to be able to go out and visit people, to go -anywhere- on my own, beyond a (once-a-week) bus … etc.

    It will be ‘nice’ to see it come to fruition, especially since when first I made my deposit (Feb., 2014), the “on target” production date was Spring, 2015 … now it’s “on target” for “mid-2016”.

    SO, pay attention to everyday -functional- reality:

    No funding = no production = no sales = no distribution.

    The rest is secondary, perhaps meaningless.

    ~ Best Wishes ~


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