Elio Motors 3-wheeler prototype – high efficiency that may not make its deadline

Elio Motors prototype 2

The new version of the Elio Motors prototype has been unveiled and it's nothing short of breathtaking on many levels. Yet the startup's plan for going to production is shaky, at best. Will this fun little car go to production or be just another failed 3-wheeler?

The manufacturer says

It’s a blast to drive. Imagine every little errand, every daily commute being something you look forward to because it means you’ll be driving your Elio. It looks cool. And face it, you are what you drive, so that will make you one cool person.


  • Manufacturer: Elio Motors
  • Year, Model: Elio Prototype
  • Class, Type: 3-wheeled, 2-seater
  • Propulsion system: Gasoline engine
  • Vehicle range: 672 miles
  • Fuel(s): Gasoline
  • Base Price: $6,800
  • Availability:
  • Taking pre-orders now.


Elio unveiled the new version of their high-efficiency, 3-wheeled, tandem two-seater last month as an 84 mpg prototype. The company has also introduced its suppliers in the endeavor and plans to raise funding to open a shuttered General Motors plant in Louisiana to build the car. All of this reveals some very interesting facts about this cool little tadpole.

The car will be about 95 percent American sourced in parts and labor, which would make it one of the most American-made of all vehicles on the road. Most of the parts that go into the Elio, with the exception of the frame and body shell, are off-the-shelf parts rather than custom-built, which is a large reason the Elio is so inexpensive. The windshield, door glass, everything about the engine and transmission, and most of the suspension and steering components are parts that can be picked up at any auto parts store, making repairs and replacement easy and insurance cheap.

The Elio itself is a 3-wheeled car in a tadpole configuration (two wheels at front, one at rear), with tandem seating and the engine up front on the front axle. That engine is a small, three-cylinder, 1.0-liter unit outputting 70 horsepower in a fuel-injected, single overhead cam (SOHC) configuration. A five speed manual or automatic transmission (manual is standard, automatic is optional) drives the car forward to a top speed of somewhere around 100 miles per hour.

The Elio will achieve an estimated 49 mpg in the city and 84 mpg on the highway and is designed to qualify for a five-star crash test rating from both the government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This would make it the first production 3-wheeler to do so. Normally, 3-wheeled cars are considered motorcycles and are thus exempt from crash test requirements. The Elio has a Safety Management System with three airbags, a reinforce roll-cage frame, antilock brakes, and crush zones that are fifty percent larger than its nearest counterpart.

The only major downer to the Elio is that it is not in production and won't be until next year – according to company plans. Realistically, that's probably not very likely unless they raise a lot of money and do it very, very soon. The Shreveport, Louisiana plant they want to use is a shuttered GM facility and would require retooling, workforce hiring and training, parts supply, etc. To do all of that in a year or so is frankly not very realistic.

Still, the car is very cool and we'd love to see it go to production.

What we like

Great design from the ground up with American-made and local sourcing as a key parameters in its build. The company wants to "make it in America and sell it to Americans."

Very low price tag with great efficiency on all fronts. It will be cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, cheap to insure, and cheap to operate.

What we don't

Business strategy is shaky and not very realistic, though the goal of next year is probably doable if only small quantities are to built, it's not likely to happen.

3-wheelers don't sell well and historically have been only marginally successful, if at all. The advantage here is that it's a well-understood paradigm (gas engine, safety rating to match cars), which will be a plus.


Although Elio Motors hasn't said so, it's very likely that the plan is to build this 3-wheeler, start selling it to make a profit, and then roll out a standard four-wheeler for a broader market. That would make sense and would explain their hurry to get going.

Test Period Length and Limitations
Vehicle is a prototype only, was not driven.

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