Thursday, January 10, 2013

Elio Motors To Manufacture Two-Seater Three-Wheeled Vehicle, Anticipated Sticker Price $6,800

A company is getting ready to manufacture a motor vehicle that will get as much as 84 miles per gallon on the highway and have a base sticker price of around $6,800 brand new. The catch: It's a two-seater, a three-wheeler, and may have to be registered as a motorcycle in your state, necessitating the additional effort of getting a motorcycle endorsement on your license.

Elio Motors is preparing to begin manufacturing the Elio; the first models will roll off the assembly line in 2014. It's expected to get 49 miles per gallon in town, up to 84 mpg on the highway, and has a 8-gallon fuel tank which takes regular unleaded gas. Each Elio will come equipped with a Safety Management System that includes three airbags – a reinforced roll-cage frame, Anti-Lock Braking System, and 50 percent larger crush zones than similar vehicles. Preliminary safety tests on computer models anticipate a 5-Star safety rating. It will be powered by an inline, 3 cylinder, 1 liter, 70 HP, fuel-injected, DOHC gas-powered, liquid-cooled, automotive engine which can accelerate from 0-60 in under 9.6 seconds; its top speed will be 100 miles per hour. It can be equipped with either an automatic or 5-speed manual transmission. To promote better traction under less ideal conditions, the Elio places the two-wheel axle in front, and has front-wheel drive, unlike British three-wheelers which put the single wheel in front. Read Elio's FAQ page for information on other options. Since the vehicle will be manufactured in Shreveport, the Shreveport Times has published a local story.

Here's their promo video:



Potential Alaska Usage: The Elio will be capable of operation on any freeway, and can be used for long distance trips between Anchorage and Fairbanks. However, its best role will be for use in town, or for those commuting between the Mat-Su and Anchorage. Despite having front-wheel drive, the single wheel in the rear could make it problematic for wintertime driving except when the roads are cleared.

Is it a passenger vehicle or a motorcycle? The answer to this question not only determines whether the Elio is registered as a motorcycle or a passenger vehicle, but whether or not you would need a motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license. According to Elio's FAQ, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) defines a “motorcycle” as a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground. So if it is less than four wheels, it is a motorcycle. However, what do you see when you look at the Elio? Fully enclosed, power windows, wiper blades, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals -- you be the judge. Elio also states that a normal driver's license without a motorcycle endorsement is sufficient to legally operate their vehicle in most states, but advise potential customers to check with their local DMV to verify. Some jurisdictions will even allow the Elio to use HOV lanes with a single occupant.



So what about Alaska? My interpretation of Alaska DMV rules indicate this vehicle is in a grey area; the Elio is not explicitly defined as a three-wheel all-terrain vehicle which would make a motorcycle license unnecessary, but Alaska DMV does define a motorcycle as having up to three wheels. So I'd have to assume they would consider it to be a motorcycle; I get different answers from different DMV staffers. Here's the pertinent published information applicable to Alaska:

Definition of Motorcycle: A vehicle having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than 3 wheels in contact with the ground; the term does not include a tractor nor does it include 3-wheel all-terrain vehicles. Obtaining a Motorcycle (M1) license requires passing a written knowledge test (or present a valid Alaska learner's permit or driver license), a written motorcycle knowledge test (or present a valid motorcycle instruction permit), a vision test, and a motorcycle road test. In lieu of the written motorcycle test and the motorcycle road test, an applicant may present a card issued from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation showing they have passed one of five specified Motorcycle Rider Courses completed within the current or previous calendar year. The Alaska Drivers Manual does not effectively resolve the ambiguity by formally defining whether or not a passenger vehicle must have a minimum of four wheels.

Before ordering this vehicle, I would suggest contacting DMV to find out if they define it as a passenger vehicle or a motorcycle. There is clear cut justification for defining it as a vehicle instead of a motorcycle; it is a vehicle in every way except for the number of wheels. The Elio may eventually have to be specifically defined through legislative action.

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