Elio Motors’ CEO shifts gears to carve out niche in personal transportation
Paul Elio isn’t resentful for being tucked away in the back of the New York Auto Show. In an interview before he addressed a packed press conference today, Elio said he sees his cars parked side-by-side with the gas guzzlers he’s trying to disrupt, not replacing them.
“I really think we’re symbiotic with the rest of the industry,” Elio told me as members of the media set up camp around the bright orange Elio Motors prototype set up in the cavernous Javits Center in Manhattan. “Americans buy big vehicles for a reason. You can’t hall plywood in a Yaris. You can’t you can’t tow a boat with a Versa.”
Based on the 84-miles-per-gallon he is aiming for with the vehicle — a single-person, three-wheel model expected to cost $6,800 that some call an “autocycle” — Elio says the car will actually pay for itself for people taking solitary trips to work of 40 miles or more, based on current fuel rates.
“Just like the Sony Walkman. The Sony walkman was a radio, but it didn’t impact home stereo sales,” said Elio, who was recognized earlier this year on our inaugural Upstart 100 list. “You had a home stereo for a reason, but you wanted personal music. This is personal transportation.”
In spite of collecting 41,000 reservations for advanced sales of the vehicle, Phoenix-based Elio Motors has faced a loud, and persistant backlash from a small group of doubters who say the numbers the company proposes just don’t add up.
Elio however, remains undaunted. He acknowledged that his company, which is in the process of raising $230 million to begin production, was largely dependent on pending application for a $185 million federal loan from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing.
To make ends meet, last month, Elio Motors launched a JOBS Act supported crowdfunding campaign that lets credited investors put their skin in the game for as little as $15,000. Just weeks earlier, the company unveiled what it calls the first American-made car engine in 60 years.
Elio Motors, which has operations both in Phoenix and in Detroit, isn’t like your typical car manufacturer. Elio himself is proud of the fact that the vehicle is build from absolutely no new technology, but consists of parts already being produced by the “who’s who of the global supply chain.” He’s not inventing anything, he’s reinventing, and refining existing parts.
So perhaps it’s fitting that to get to Elio’s booth at the New York Auto Show, a member of the event staff told me, “Just past Chevrolet.” If Elio’s vision does catch on, he’s already secured a manufacturing plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, that was formerly owned by the maker of Chevrolet, General Motors.
“It’s four times the size of this conference hall,” Elio described the plant, as he looked over a fleet of Chevrolets.