Could Elio Motor’s Tiny Car Make a Big Impression with Consumers?

With three wheels, two seats and a tiny engine, the Elio car is fast approaching full manufacturing.

The automotive industry seems to attract entrepreneurs that think outside the box. These people pop up from their garages touting ideas they insist can knock industry heavyweights off their feet – if they receive the proper funding. 

The concept that’s grabbed my attention today is by Elio Motors, founded by car enthusiast Paul Elio in 2008. Elio has produced a three-wheeled car with a very tiny engine, designed as a commuter vehicle. Designed to get 84 miles per gallon, this tiny two-seater comes with a light price tag of $6,800.

Normally I would just discard this to the realm of impossibility, but this concept might just have “legs.”

The Elio has already seen a number of prototypes and more critically, the right people have been hired to design and build the car. World class engine developer IAV, has been assigned the engineering task of creating a new power plant and an ex-GM plant in Shreveport, LA has been proposed as Elio’s manufacturing site.

What Elio is after, is a 0.9 liter, three cylinder engine. Ford in Europe has been actively working with power plants of this size with turbocharging, to get high fuel efficiency and respectable power. This engine is a clean-sheet, high efficiency design with no word about turbocharging or any power-adders.

Three-cylinder engines have always been a problem in the automotive world in that it’s usually two-cylinders up and one cylinder down, which creates a rocking couple. It’s a high vibration situation usually addressed by balance shafts. It’s not clear how Elio will address that, as they’re using a very small and compact power plant package in the front of the vehicle.

Financing is what usually kills entrepreneurs with start-ups like this. In Elio’s case, investment is aided by something called a “506C” offering. This is a different way of raising capital in the U.S., made possible by the Jobs Act of 2012 and it allows qualified investors to buy easily into Elio Motors.

So far, Elio has a vehicle on the ground and running, a legitimate engineering firm doing power plant development and a facility ready to go – which could employ 1,500 people if successful and they get the financing in place to make it go.

The question is, will the market demand accept a tiny, three wheeled micro-car with high mileage and a low price? I think yes, for the sporty car/eco crowd, but selling for $6,800 sounds highly optimistic. $10,000 would sound like a more realistic figure.

Despite all the possible “if’s and but’s,” 43,000 people have already made reservations for their own Elio car through the company’s website. Obviously there’s a core market out there sufficiently interested in putting their money where their mouth is.

For more information on Elio Motors and the Elio car, visit

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.