LAS VEGAS — It’s hard to say what’s most amazing about Elio Motors’ three-wheeled car: its sexy frame, its extreme fuel efficiency or its jaw-dropping $6,800 price tag.
That princely sum — a little less than a 12-core Mac Pro costs — gets you a sleek two-seater that looks like something you’d see in a sci-fi flick. It’s got two wheels up front, one in back and a built-in holder for your iPad.
And on the International CES show floor here, Elio’s got a team of breezy boosters who tout its many forward-looking features with the quick-witted humor of the best car salesmen.
“For $6,800, we ought to charge you for the air in the tires,” Elio Motors rep Don Harris told Cult of Mac when we asked if the iPad was included in the purchase price.
The idea for the car emerged in 2008, when gas prices were going through the roof. High-performance electric cars like the Tesla and conservative gas-electric hybrids like the Prius got a lot of press as gas prices spiked in the intervening years, but the Elio has more in common with the cult classic Insight hybrid that Honda killed in 2006.
The Elio is a futuristic-looking, no-frills ride designed for hypermilers attracted to fuel-efficiency and nontraditional design.
The Elio is powered by a three-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 60 horsepower. It will go zero to 60 in 9.5 seconds and hit a top speed north of 100 mph. The estimated mileage is 84 mpg highway and 49 mpg city. It comes standard with power door locks, heat, air conditioning and a five-speed transmission, but you can get an automatic for less than $1,000 more.
Safety features include three airbags, a reinforced steel roll cage and anti-lock brakes. Because it’s got only three wheels, it’s classified as a motorcycle by the federal government. In some states, drivers would be required to wear helmets.
The car is also designed to have a data connection that will let owners make VOIP calls or remotely start the vehicle, unlock its doors or use cameras to scan the street where it’s parked. A built-in accelerometer can send alerts if the vehicle gets bumped, and all that could happen from an iPhone, a Web browser, an Apple Watch or other connected devices.
“This is a true Internet car,” said Elio rep Jerome Vassallo, although the company is still working to cut deals with mobile carriers to make that happen. Elio is hoping for a $19.99-a-month plan.
The eye-catching model at CES was a vivid Creamsicle orange, and the Elio will come in six other colors (True Blue, Marshmallow, Red Hot, Rocket Silver, Licorice and Sour Apple). The aerodynamic frame is covered in sheet-molded composite similar to what’s used in the new Corvette.
“It is a head-turner,” said Vassallo, and nobody could argue with that.
Sitting inside the Elio, I was surprised how spacious it seemed. The driver sits in front of the passenger, who might need to be an acrobat to get into the rear seat, and the vehicle sits very low to the ground. The tiny trunk opens up to hold cargo the size of a standard carry-on suitcase, and the rear seat folds forward to provide even more storage space for a solo driver.
The interior of the hand-built prototype looks pretty traditional, although the iPad makes a pretty sweet supplemental dashboard. We didn’t get to test-drive it through the throng of journalists at CES, but an Elio rep assured us it “drives very automotive-like.”
This isn’t Elio’s first time at the CES rodeo: They showed off the vehicle last year as well, and the Elio Motors website still says the American-made car will be available this year even though the current plan is to begin production in early 2016. Elio has taken 38,000 “reservations” of between $100 and $1,000 so far.
Right now, it’s basically a concept car, and there’s no guarantee the Elio will ever hit the road. After delays, Elio now plans to start production in early 2016, with a capacity to crank out 250,000 of the gas-sippers per year. They plan to build the cars in an old GM factory in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Hummers used to roll off the assembly line.
“Little irony for ya,” Vassallo quipped.