Elio Motors has faced many obstacles, financing to missed deadlines. But it could now be faced with its toughest adversary — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Elio has touted is three-wheeled, two-seat car and its projected 84 mpg for a few years. But if the NHTSA prevails, the futuristic-looking vehicle won’t be able to be classified as a motorcycle and thus will not circumvent the stricter safety and efficiency regulations that govern cars.
As such, Elio would face increased costs and could further delay the expect the first production the vehicle until 2017 — if not indefinitely.
Elio Motors had to rely on a “crowdfunding” project last year to help raise the $230 million needed to start production at its ex-General Motors plant in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The slow pace of fundraising had led Elio to miss its original 2015 deadline for the start of production. The company has also missed other key time frame deadlines.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently introduced a proposal to change its regulations related to three-wheeled vehicles.
This would alter the regulatory definition of motorcycle to exclude three-wheeled vehicles “that are configured like passenger cars.”
If the rule change is implemented, though, that classification would be reserved for traditional motorcycles. It would also cover bikes with sidecars, trikes, and other three-wheeled vehicles “based on a motorcycle-like configuration.”
Vehicles that the NHTSA deems to be too much like passenger cars would have to be classified as such. That includes three-wheeled vehicles with features like “fully-enclosed cabins, hinged doors with roll-up windows, steering wheels, and side-by-side seating,” according to the proposed rule.
Various three wheelers have been sold in the U.S. before, somewhat blurring the design between car and motorcycle.
But the NHTSA believes consumers who buy these vehicles “are likely to assume” they have similar crash protection to cars–even though they are much less substantial.
The Elio Motors website, www.eliomotors.com currently states nearly 49,000 would-be buyers have paid a minimum of $100 deposit to purchase an Elio at a special price and receive when the car is manufactures.
Article Last Updated: January 10, 2016.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.