Think of what it must be like to create your own car, complete with a radical ground-up design for a 0.9-liter, three-cylinder engine.
Paul Elio, the creator of said three-wheeler (designed to achieve 84 mpg and sell for $6,800) told me no one has come out with a new car powered by its own internal-combustion engine “since Nash did it in 1951.” That’s more than 60 years ago.
So the motor, produced for Elio Motors by Detroit-based engineering company IAV, is finally done and in a prototype car that will have its sheet pulled off on the floor of the Los Angeles Auto Show this week (Thursday morning, specifically). On the way out to LA, the car stopped by Elio’s home in Arizona and, he said, “I got to drive it around the block.”
What a moment, like hearing your symphony played for the first time, right? The Elio odyssey has been going on since 2008. So what was it like, Paul? “It drives nice; we’re pleased,” he said.
OK, not exactly poetic but it will have to do. The company is targeting a two-passenger car (with one door!) that will hit 100 mph and achieve zero to 60 in 9.6 seconds.
I’ll see the prototype in Los Angeles, but probably won’t get to drive it until sometime after that. Possibly in Detroit where the car will be housed. This is the so-called P5 version of the car, and there are other changes besides the engine—including the correct factory-intent suspension and “Elgin Watch-type” gauge cluster. The nose is also a bit more curvy, in response to the need for better aerodynamics. “It’s great that it looks better, too,” Elio said. The car is supposed to have more than 90 percent North American content, including a recent tire deal with Continental in South Carolina.
The all-important question is when, at long last, Elio Motors will have cars to customers. “We’ve been saying the fourth quarter of 2016,” Elio said. Don’t expect that to be hard and fast, but there are some encouraging signs. Elio is finally able to raise money through non-accredited investors (waiting for that cost the company a year and half, Elio said) and on Startengine.com it has an impressive $45 million committed to a $25 million goal. That’s in addition to the $75 million Elio has already raised, and what it says amounts to $290 million in 47,000 advance orders. The latter is fairly ephemeral unless the factory is actually fitted out and producing.
The company has been back and forth with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on approval of its application. With approval, the individual investors will be asked if they indeed want to put forth $1,000 or whatever it is. Then, with the $25 million on hand, Elio will be able to (no, not start building cars—don’t get ahead of us) complete what it calls the 25 E-level prototypes that will be tested in preparation for making the factory tooling.
I know, it’s a laborious process, isn’t it? “It’s a very complex project,” Elio said. “We expect to find small problems with the E-level cars, then we’ll go to tooling from there.” Elio denies there’s any problem with his huge, ex-General Motors factory in Shreveport, Louisiana. “There were some unsubstantiated reports on that, but they were not true,” he said.
In fact, the company’s landlord in Louisiana is Stuart Lichter of the huge Industrial Realty Group. Lichter is a 20 percent owner of Elio Motors, so he presumably has a stake in seeing the company succeed. Check him out in the video below. The factory is a whopping four million square feet (bigger than the Empire State Building in square footage) and some of it has been leased to other clients, which Elio said started the rumors. Come to think of it, why isn’t Tesla renting out parts of its similarly oversized factory? It could be making income while waiting for the high-volume Model 3.
Paul Elio says a $25 million cash infusion would “put us in a good position to finish the project.” Let’s hope so. There’s still extraordinary interest in that little car, but it could fade if more years go by without something in showrooms (which could, we hear, be retail stores like those operated by Tesla).
Here's a video showing a teaser look at the P5 version:
Here's one with the Elio motor running:
And here's yet another one showing Louisiana landlord Stuart Lichter talking about plans for the little engine that could: