Thrifty three-wheel car struts its stuff at Las Vegas showcase
The sleek three-wheeled car looks futuristic, but, as its creator acknowledges, it uses no new technology.
What makes the Elio Motors vehicle unique is its ultra-high fuel economy and an ultra-low price tag: US$6,800.
The vehicle, which was on display at the ShowStoppers start-up showcase on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, promises to deliver as much as about 140 kilometres per 4 litres of petrol for highway driving. It accelerates as quickly as many cars on the road - to 160 km/h in 9.6 seconds, according to the company. Urban fuel economy is estimated at 21 km/litre.
Company founder Paul Elio said he came up with the idea because "I got mad about seeing all this wealth leave the country" for imported petrol.
An engineer by training, Elio began the firm in 2008 and recently took over an abandoned General Motors plant in Louisiana, one which had been producing the gas-guzzling Hummer.
In order to deliver the best fuel economy, the car has a cockpit wide enough only for the driver, with a passenger seat in the back. It has two wheels in front and tapers to a single wheel.
"Front-to-back seating, that's the key to mileage," Elio said.
This makes it principally a one-person car.
But Elio said that it was a good solution for the millions who drove alone to work or leisure events.
Elio readily admits there is no special technology in the car - it has a three-cylinder internal combustion petrol engine, power windows, air conditioning and anti-lock brakes.
And while it does not have some of the on-board electronic gadgetry found in other vehicles, drivers can connect their smartphones for navigation, apps and more.
"This was a design completely based on existing engineering," company spokesman Jim Andrews said.
The car has a top crash- impact rating from the US National Highway Transportation Safety Board, and is expected to meet all US safety standards.
Elio is targeting the US market but hopes eventually to it ship internationally.
He has more than 6,000 orders from customers who have paid a deposit and hopes to start delivering early next year.
He also plans to speak to major carmakers, including Chrysler, about possible partnerships.
It's not clear how much of an impact the Elio vehicle will have, but it comes after a sizzling debut for another start-up carmaker, Tesla, which sells a US$70,000 electric car.
Other three-wheelers may be in the works as well: a three-wheel concept car from Toyota was on display at the huge electronics exhibition.
Elio said he was encouraged by the response to the car. "We didn't design it to be cool," he said. "It was cool by accident."