Elio Motors’ three-wheeled car gets 84 miles per gallon

LAS VEGAS—In the not-too-distant future, we may all be zipping around in sleek, fuel-efficient three-wheeled vehicles.

First we saw the Toyota iRoad, a dual-passenger “Personal Mobility Device” that turns on a dime and is faster than a bicycle, yet is safer than a motorcycle. Now, another three-wheeled, two-passenger vehicle sits in the middle of a grandiose ballroom at the Wynn Las Vegas during CES.

Created by Elio Motors, this new vehicle doesn’t yet have a catchy name—though Elio Motors’ CEO and founder Paul Elio affectionately calls it the “E.” The car looks pretty slick. It’s got a swooping silver nose, two slim tires sticking out from the front like you’d see on a drag racer, and a third wheel tucked under the back end. The E is half the width of a regular car, but nearly as long, which makes it look a tad noodle-y and stretched out.

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The "E."

Unlike the iRoad, the E isn’t a two-person scooter with a roof. Not only does it get 84 miles per gallon (and yes, that’s on an all-gas engine—no hybrids here), and it has a top speed of 107 miles per hour, which is faster than you should be driving on any U.S. road anyway. (The iRoad, by comparison, has a top speed of just 30 miles per hour, so good luck taking that on a highway.)

That said, I’m not sure the E would be all that comfortable on a road trip, though the 84mpg rating would certainly be useful for us California commuters.

The real question is, just who is this two-passenger vehicle geared at?

“We like to say ‘E’ is for ‘everybody,’” Elio quips. “And it really is. I recently had a state senator see the car and ask when it will be ready. Meanwhile, a lady who works at Walmart—who had to use her work phone to call because she can’t afford phone service—called us and asked about payment plans. I can’t think of any other vehicle that appeals to both powerful politicians and people who are literally living hand-to-mouth.”

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The motor.

The vehicle’s low price point of $6800 is pretty appealing. The base model is bare-bones equipped with A/C, AM/FM radio, power windows and locks, and a 3-year warranty. Additional options, including techy features such as blind spot detection and a backup camera, will be available for an additional cost. When asked what these options might cost, Elio said they will be “priced fairly,” probably at a 20-percent markup.

The vehicle's fuel efficiency factors into the price discussion, as well. “The lady from Walmart drives 40 miles to work each way. She can take the gas money she’ll save and take her family to a movie,” Elio suggests.

“But not in this car,” I note. “Because it only seats two people.”

“Well…yes,” Elio says.

So there’s another question—how often is a two-person vehicle going to be your only vehicle?

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