Rocket Fuel

Phoenix Business Journal Article

Paul Elio’s entrepreneurial dream is all about two numbers — $6,800 and 84 miles per gallon.

Elio is founder and CEO of Phoenix-based Elio Motors. He’s also an engineer with experience in the auto industry and was chief executive of Tempe-based ESG Engineering.

For the past five years, Elio has been working to develop a new ultra-high gas mileage, inexpensive vehicle — called the Elio — that will be manufactured in Louisiana. He said the idea was sparked by the record run-up in oil prices in the summer of 2008. “I was just getting pissed off seeing all the wealth going out of the country,” Elio said.

Elio has raised $50 million and has 4,500 customer reservations of between $100 and $1,000 to purchase his three-wheel vehicle when production starts near Shreveport, La. in 2014. Elios will be built at a former General Motors plant in Shreveport. He hopes to employ 3,000 people there.

Los Angeles real estate developer Stu Lichter, chairman of Industrial Realty Group LLC, is also one of the key players the venture, Elio said.

The three-wheel vehicle weighs only 1,200 pounds and is classified as a motorcycle.

“We’re half the weight so it costs less money,” said Elio, who is on a regional media tour promoting the vehicle in Phoenix, Albuquerque and Silicon Valley.

Most small cars weigh in the neighborhood of 2,500 pounds.

Elio said having his namesake vehicle classified as a motorcycle instead of car helps speed its ability to get to market. Federal regulatory bars are much higher for cars. He said motorcycles can get regulatory approvals in 60 days while it takes 18 to 24 months for similar approvals for cars.

The Elio is slated to have a 55-horsepower, gas-fueled engine and can get from zero to 60 miles per hour in nine seconds. Its inventor claims it will be faster than small hybrids as well as Smart cars. He is confident the Elio will get a five-star crash rating from federal safety regulators. The car seats two persons — one in front of the other.

He’s hoping for interest from domestic and international markets and customers up and down the economic scale. Elio said the car could be a high-efficiency commuter car for some and an inexpensive entry point into car ownership for others. There are also emerging foreign economies such as Brazil, India and China, were the pricing and gas mileage could be a big selling point.

The Elio car is still in the development stage. The company is designing the car out of offices in Detroit but Elio and some other top executives are based in Phoenix. Germany’s IAV GmbH is developing the drivetrain for the Elio. The company does similar work for BMW, Mercedes-Benz, GM, Volkswagen and Audi.


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