March 31, 2014 | 8:33 AM
The Elio is technically a motorcycle, but is a whole lot easier and safer to drive.
Most Americans–about 93%–drive to work alone. So why use a car that’s big enough for four? A new vehicle that’s half-motorcycle and half-car is designed to replace sedans and SUVs on morning commutes and help save money and emissions in the process: The Elio costs $6,800 and gets 84 miles to the gallon. It’s possible to drive 672 miles on a single tank of gas. That’s the distance from New York City to Detroit.
“The premise behind the concept is that most households have at least one vehicle that’s single occupant,” says Paul Elio, founder of Elio Motors. “Even if you have kids, you probably have an SUV or minivan, and then a small sedan with dust on the backseat. We can be that car.”
The Elio actually has two seats, set front to back for ideal aerodynamics, in case the driver needs to give someone a ride. Inside, it looks and acts pretty much like a car; it’s fully enclosed and has car seats and seatbelts, air bags, and options for manual or automatic transmission. It’s more like a car than this somewhat similar vehiclefrom Lit Motors. But because it has three wheels, it’s classified under law as a motorcycle.
The motorcycle classification leads to some strange consequences–in a few states, under current law, you’d have to wear a helmet even though the vehicle is enclosed. But it also has benefits. “As a motorcycle, you can go in the HOV lane by yourself,” Elio says. It also meant the vehicle can come to market more quickly, since there’s less red tape involved in manufacturing a motorcycle.
Even though regulations don’t require it, the company plans to comply with all standards for cars that apply. “We’re engineering to achieve a 5-star crash rating in all directions,” Elio says. “We’re going way beyond the minimum.” Still, there are a few idiosyncrasies–the headlights, for example, can’t comply with car standards because motorcycle lights are required to be brighter by law.
Because the vehicle is so lightweight–about half the weight of a typical small car–the company can save on materials costs. Elio has also tried to optimize other steps in manufacturing to keep costs down. “We get all 34 of our suppliers together once every four to six weeks and we work on the vehicle as a group. That’s never been done before. All of these things add up to a lower price.”
When the vehicle comes to market next year, the Elio plans to have innovative financing to make the vehicle even easier to buy. “It’s actually cheaper to drive a brand new Elio than a clunker,” Elio says. The company will offer the option to buy the car with nothing but a special credit card for gas; every time someone buys gas, they’ll pay extra to make a car payment.
“If you buy $10 of gas, it will show up as a $30 charge on your statement–that $20 extra is your vehicle payment,” Elio explains. “As long as you drove into the dealership with something that gets 27 miles per gallon or less–and we know there are 100 million of those cars out there–you’ll be paying less, and you’ll have a brand new vehicle under warranty.”
You’ll also be helping reduce pollution. “If you drive it 20,000 miles per year, an Elio produces less emissions than one cow’s flatulence during the same time,” Elio says. “We’re cleaner than a cow. After 10 years of sales, we expect to save 8 billion gallons of gas.”