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USA Today Article

Paul Elio hopes to start production of his $6,800, three-wheel ‘car’ next year

 

LOS ANGELES — If you want to be seen as a bonafide automotive maverick, there’s no better way than to pull up in a three-wheel car.

But engineering executive Paul Elio thinks the time has come for the commuter “car” he has shown here. He hopes to sell it for as little as $6,800 and claims gas mileage as high as 49 miles per gallon in the city, 84 mpg on the highway. It has one door, two seats and three wheels. The driver sits in front of the passenger.

The Elio, as the three-wheeler is called, targets people who might not have been been shopping for a new car. “We’re creating this segment that doesn’t exist,” Elio says. “America is ready for this.”

If the country is ready, it will be a sharp departure from the past attempts to produce three-wheelers. Elio says he is addressing objections that sank others:

•Safety. Like all three wheelers, Elio would be regulated by the government as a motorcycle, but Elio says he aims to meet car five-star safety standards. It will have three airbags and energy-absorbing zones for crashes.

•Features. The vehicle would have standard air conditioning, audio and power windows. With its three-cylinder, 55-horsepower engine, it has a top speed of 100 miles per hour.

•Affordability. Elio envisions a financing plan for buyers to pay little or no money up front and get credit card that would charge them triple for gasoline with the surplus used to pay down the loan. He says high fuel economy would offset the gas price.

Though the idea might seem three-wheel lunacy, Elio is not easily dismissed. He says he has raised $47 million, secured a former General Motors’ plant in Shreveport, La., for production and taken 5,563 reservations as of last week, for which buyers plunked down $100 to $1,000.

“There is tremendous momentum now,” he says. “Everything is falling into place.”

All he needs is $200 million.

That’s what he says he’ll need to start production late next year. He says continued interest in the car will draw investors. “Money will come in when we need it.”

But he faces big hurdles. Though others have tried, few have gotten three-wheel projects off the ground. “It’s an uphill battle,” says Ron Cogan, publisher of the Green Car Journal. “Anyone who starts a new automobile company faces incredible odds. To start out with a three-wheel vehicle is already having one hand tied behind your back.”

People worry about about safety, noise and small size compared to other vehicles. “They don’t see it as a car. They see it as an enclosed three-wheel motorcycle,” Cogan says. Others agree.

Then there is practicality. “It’s fine if you’re going to use it as a moderate-distance commuter (car). It’s not something you’d take on a long trip,” says Joe Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting.

Elio committed to the idea during the 2008 gas price spike and says his marketing surveys show enthusiasm still high despite critics and lower gas prices.

“They want this thing. There is huge impatience.”

Link to the story on USAToday.com here

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