What Makes An Elio?

Elio Motors has been pushing to get their low cost autocycle to market and they have developed a few prototypes. They brought their P4 prototype to the New York International Auto Show this year and I got a chance to get a closer look at it as well as speak to Paul Elio and some of his team. Paul was happy to emphasize that they are trying to cut costs by using existing parts and as I looked closely at the the prototype I noticed many components that appear to come from an array of other vehicles.
Elio has been promising that they would have a vehicle ready for production for a few years and while I am hard pressed to believe that they will actually bring it to production any time soon the parts bin treatment does give me some hope. Designing and building parts from scratch takes a lot of research and development and increases production costs so integrating existing parts makes sense and as I looked over the P4 I noticed many familiar pieces.

As soon as the hood is popped open on the P4 you notice the familiar Suzuki G10 993cc engine as it came in the Geo Metro. This engine was initially chosen because it is simple and provided for decent fuel economy in the Metro while having a non-interference design that provided some safety for the internals in case of a timing belt failure.  The prototype also uses the instrument cluster from a Geo Metro convertible or Suzuki Swift as it contains a tachometer which did not come the standard Metro. The original plan was to use the G10 engine with a few updates but since they were going to have significant re-tooling costs they decided build their own proprietary engine that is similar to the G10 but uses a timing chain instead of a belt along with a slew of other improvements. The engine diagrams have been on display for some time but have not been installed into any prototype yet. While their proprietary engine might be more efficient than the G10, I would think that they could find a more modern off the shelf 3-cylinder unit such as the HR12DE from Nissan and implement it at a lower cost. The current transmission is the 3-speed automatic unit that also comes from the Metro while the production vehicle is slated to be built with a 5-Speed manual from Aisin or an optional new automatic transmission.
The outside of the Elio is fairly unique but once you get a good look at it you will notice that the door handles appear to be pulled directly form the 1998-2002 Honda Accord which actually makes sense as they run about $5 a piece in the aftermarket so I am sure they can get them even cheaper when buying in bulk. The doors also look very familiar themselves and remind me of the first generation Honda Insight but I could not place them as being from another vehicle.  The front and rear lights appear to be proprietary pre-production units as they did not have any DOT stamping on them although the headlights look similar to many motorcycle designs. The rear side glass also looks a bit familiar but was not something I could place.
Once we get inside the P4, you quickly notice some components that might anger many die-hard Chevrolet and Ford fans since the steering wheel comes from the 5th generation Chevrolet Camaro while the seat comes from the 5th generation Ford Mustang. The automatic shifter box appears to be from the Geo as well but the aged shifter seems to have been replaced with the finest fake Carbon Fiber unit they could find on eBay. The HVAC controls are chrome units that look like they could find a place on the bling shelf of your local auto parts store and will hopefully get replaced with something more fitting on the production model.  I got a glimpse of the brakes and suspension and from what I have heard the suspension is custom designed for the P4 while the brakes are pulled from the Hyundai Elantra. I am sure there are many other components that are pulled from other models and if you recognize anything let us know in the comments below.
[Engine Photo Copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Bozi Tatarevic]
[All Other Images Courtesy of Elio Motors]

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  1. Sjalabais Avatar

    What do the original companies say to this product medley? Isn’t that a parasitic approach to others R&D – something you wouldn’t accept from, say, a Chinese company? I also had the same thoughts about the engine – but here the concept of taking-stuff-off-the-shelf is probably more limited, so they had to go for an ancient mill. VW, PSA, Mazda, Nissan – lots of companies offer more modern, highly efficient engines. Even Suzuki themselves, who offer a Swift to this day – but it’s not particularly efficient for its class.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Parasitic, but common in low volume production.
      I’ve stated it before, but this little car could only exist in the USA where competent small cars are rare.
      Compare the performance of this inefficient single seater with it’s dated powertrain and chassis/superstructure engineering design,( a virtual kit-car), with a properly engineered small Japanese or European small car ; such as any Japanese kei-car, or a VW Up/SEAT Mii/Škoda Citigo,or PSA/Toyota BZero, (C1/107/Aygo), or new Renault Twingo/Smart Car. These all take up less space on the road and so are easier to park as well as meeting current crash standards, taking four people and their luggage- and with their cutting edge technology engines giving 70+ mpg fuel economy on diesel or petrol.
      And they’re cheap to buy in the parts of the world that they’re available and if they are too small, try the offerings in the next size.(Honda Jazz/VW Polo size)
      I’d wager that with the thousands of hours of senior engineers time spent on them, that they do all that and ride and handle better than this well-meant but amateur effort.
      If this car actually makes it into production as anything other than a toy, the US will be a laughing stock in the eyes of the rest of the world.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Spot on and nothing to add. You’re just right. The only advantage with the Elios’ freak design is that it might just break open a small or even micro car market – get the odd one’s attention, then everyone else.

      2. mdharrell Avatar

        Speaking as the owner of an inefficient single-seater with a dated powertrain and chassis/superstructure engineering design, I am compelled to point out that the Elio is a two-seater.

        1. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          Oh.My apologies You are quite correct. There is another (hard to get to) seat in there
          I have amended my text.

          1. mdharrell Avatar

            The rear seat’s not so bad. I tried out both in the prototype when it came to Seattle.
            Then again, my personal standards of ease and comfort are not necessarily the highest….

          2. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            Now why didn’t they just license that ? It looks to be designed to the same standards of crash protection, and design generally -I love the mirror location.
            (And how do you think it would have fared if you’d been driving that and not your MG Metro when the accident occurred?)

          3. mdharrell Avatar

            Upon noticing my HMV t-shirt, one of the folks running the Elio display mentioned that Freeway owners had been turning up at all of their venues. I got the impression none of them appreciated the implied claim to similarity in philosophy, intent, and appeal.
            I admit I was skeptical at first, but the mirrors work remarkably well.
            The Freeway’s body left the factory reinforced with the finest of plywood. I’m sure it would have been fine.

          4. Vairship Avatar

            Plywood is much more flexible than steel, so it would have simply bent and then bounced back into shape. Of course in the process it MIGHT have flung the Freeway into the top of the nearest tree, but that’s a different story…

    2. Citric Avatar

      While I can’t speak for them, companies seem to be cool with low volume products using their parts so long as they’re not in direct competition, and suppliers would be for it because it’s more sales. Like I think every company you can name had their minor bits in something limited run, including fun stuff like E39 headlights on a bus.

  2. Tanshanomi Avatar

    “…they decided build their own proprietary engine…”
    And THERE is the point where I gave up hoping that Elio would succeed.
    On the other hand, I never thought Motus was going to reach the finish line, and they have started to put a trickle of bikes into customers hands. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still going to fail miserably, but at least enough that museum collections will be able to find one.

    1. Catbeller Avatar

      The new engine has finished the dyno testing, so I don’t understand why you feel the need to say this. It is done. No failure. Finished.
      As for this point, and many others made on this thread, the answers are available if you look on Google, as Paul Elio has answered many times. They went for a new engine because no one could provide them with an established engine they could use at the volumes and prices they wanted. Paul specifically said that the big auto companies just don’t deal with small startup companies like his. So Paul Elio, who is an auto engineer who made his career in the parts division, parted out everything he could to decent manufacturers and bit the pencil and spent the money to make an engine they could use that they could actually *get*.
      That didn’t delay the rollout. He said it was delayed because he spent the last year trying to raise money via venture capital channels, which, he said, in retrospect was a total waste of time because VC doesn’t play with long term growth companies with high startup costs. So this year, startengine for small investors, which gives us the couple dozen P5s this fall and winter for crash testing, final design lockdown, and most importantly to show journalists, the public and the Fed agency up to giving them that final precious loan what the car will be, sans the Metro engine and temp parts.
      If the gov does what it is supposed to do, and lend an innovative company the funds to make a American car at a decent price, we’re gonna get that Elio. If all else fails, maybe, just maybe, he could ask us to pay for the car in advance? With 45,000 people on the list, an average of maybe $4,444 each could give him his 200 million.
      Also I wonder what a tiny Tesla battery pack and a small electric motor could do to bring Elon Musk’s dream of an electric car for the masses to life pretty damned quickly.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        45000 pre-orders or 45000 interested? I can see how developing a car from scratch can be an almost insurmountable challenge. It will still be interesting to see how an almost 20 years old engine will perform in a car that is supposed to be highly efficient.
        Also, the involvement of governments in the car business can be very tricky; see Th!nk, PSA’s struggle to rationalize or the issues between Volkswagen and the state of Niedersachsen. Providing seeding capital when no one else stands up can be essential to get things going, of course. The question is what is expected in return for the money.

        1. neight428 Avatar

          Tricky indeed. You could be the next Tesla if you make the right friends, or alternatively, the last Tesla could have his friends string you along and axe your project with one of the thousands of regulatory arrows in the .gov quiver once you’re broke and demoralized.

      2. Tanshanomi Avatar

        There is a long, long path from “dyno tested” to “in production.”

      3. Tanshanomi Avatar

        And I’m supposed to pay $4K+ for a product that doesn’t exist yet? Yeah, that’s a smart use of my money. Just ask all the people who pre-ordered an Earl in 2012:
        Earl Back Country Tablet Delayed Until Early 2016 (At Least)

        1. Bozi Avatar

          Exactly, they seem to be going against the odds which will likely lead to their demise. One thing that they do have going for them is people that have already placed a deposit that are bought in to the company. Since they already put money up, they don’t want to feel like they made an uneducated decision so they become brand ambassadors by default.

        2. Vairship Avatar

          Yes, they might want to read about Preston Tucker before they go that route and double-check any legal troubles that might bring.

    2. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      EBR didn’t survive either and yet I know of a few that were sold here in NZ, so maybe they nearly succeeded. It’s hard finding someone with the deep pockets and patience to be a backer until success arrives. Even with Tesla at this stage, it’s been a close thing.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        In my opinion, Tesla would never have made it this far without Elon Musk willing to dump endless amounts of money into it. Elio is like Tesla without Musk: it’s still possible, but vastly more likely that one or more of the (smaller) backers/suppliers call it quits before they turn enough of a profit to become self-sustaining. I’m not sure even Tesla is at the self-sustaining point yet…

  3. Ted Avatar

    What kind of idiot would use a Geo Metro engine in a half-baked tiny car project?

    1. irishzombieman Avatar

      So. What exactly are you building there?

      1. Ted Avatar

        ’57 Berkeley SE492

        1. irishzombieman Avatar

          Wow! Nice!
          Odd for a G10 to be a big step *up* in horsepower.

        2. irishzombieman Avatar

          Found your videos, man. Looks like a really great project.
          While I understand that your decision to remove the motor and trans in one piece, I feel compelled to point out that you missed an extremely rare opportunity to lift an engine out of a car by hand. 🙂
          Will be watching your build progress. Good luck!

          1. Texlenin Avatar

            ya got a link for that, IZ(ie)?

          2. irishzombieman Avatar

            Part 1 here:

  4. neight428 Avatar

    Elio is proving that the actual development, while complicated, is not impossible and the tech to make an ultra-cheap, efficient, reliable transportation thing has literally been sitting on the shelf for decades. Problem is, low cost cars don’t make much money for anyone and VC knows this. Our approach to regulating fuel economy through CAFE requirements virtually guarantees that Chevy will have Sparqs on their lots being sold at a loss so that they sell more Tahoe options at a mind numbing profit. If they didn’t mark them down that low, no one would buy them at all at our gas prices. In Europe, Japan and elsewhere, the fuel economy regs are through a tax directly on fuel, so ultra efficient cars make direct economic sense to the buyer, instead of a derivative value to the manufacturer that will ebb and flow with thousands of other variables. The cynic in me thinks that Elio engineered the whole thing in the hopes of being bought out to ease someone else’s CAFE burden.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      EU mileage requirements will have to be met by manufacturers selling cars here, too. The “scientific” fuel cycle is a ridiculously unrealistic thing tricked out by all manufacturers, but it will still be interesting to see how companies like Porsche fix their numbers. I have my fingers crossed for a Honda S600-sized Porsche.

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