My late father told me that few people are as passionate as converts who’ve become disaffected. Some of the most vocal critics of the Elio Motors startup are former supporters, people who put down money on reservations, only to be disappointed by repeated delays in starting production.
Paul Elio most recently said production is slated to begin sometime late this year — that is if they can get the money to do it.
However, those disaffected folks were abuzz this week over a post at Green Car Congress that said a proposed rule change by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would classify three-wheeled vehicles as automobiles. That would require Elio Motors’ three-wheeler to comply with all the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards of four-wheeled cars.
Trikes like the Morgan 3 Wheeler and the Polaris Slingshot are available in the United States precisely because they’re legally classified as motorcycles and don’t have to meet automotive motor vehicle safety standards rules. If the proposed rule went into effect, those vehicles could not be sold in the United States.
Elio has claimed that their trike will meet crash standards for automobiles and that they’ll publish the crash test results. However, Elio is currently taking advantage of the NHTSA’s three-wheeler definitions to get their vehicle to market without having to undergo the testing and approval regime applied to four-wheeled vehicles.
The reginfo.gov site has the abstract for the proposed rule online. It states:
This rulemaking would change the regulatory definition of motorcycle to exclude three-wheeled vehicles that are configured like passenger cars. Under the existing regulatory definition of motorcycle in part 571.3, three-wheeled motor vehicles are classified as motorcycles. This is appropriate for motorcycles with sidecars, trikes, and other three-wheeled vehicles that are based on a motorcycle-like configuration. However, other three-wheeled vehicles have passenger-car characteristics such as fully enclosed cabins, hinged doors with roll-up windows, steering wheels, and side-by-side seating. Because these car-like vehicles ride on three wheels instead of four, they are not required to meet federal safety standards for passenger cars (although they are subject to motorcycle safety standards). Various car-like three-wheeled vehicle models have been imported into the U.S. and have been available for sale to the public. NHTSA believes consumers who purchase these vehicles are likely to assume that these vehicles have the same safety features and crash protection as passenger cars certified to Federal safety standards.
Elio critics and skeptics seized on the news for validation of their belief that the Elio trike will never see production. I was already planning on doing a post about Elio, their latest prototype and their crowdsourcing stock offer after their press conference next Tuesday in Detroit at the NAIAS. However, because of the buzz about the proposed change in regulations, I contacted Elio management for comment.
Elio Motors’ public relations firm sent me the response below. In a nutshell: old news, not an issue, wouldn’t apply to them.
Statement on NHTSA rule
Elio Motors remains committed to engineering our vehicle to the industry’s highest safety standards. This particular rule from NHTSA was first published in 2013 and is not something new. NHTSA is required to post this rule at least twice a year, but no new progress has been made since 2013.
This rule includes vehicles with side-by-side seating. The Elio has tandem (front-to-back) seating, so this rule, if enacted, would not apply.
Our goal as a company is to develop legislation that is in the best interest of the consumer and is appropriate for a three-wheeled vehicle. We have worked on several legislative initiatives at the state level and we support Federal legislation called “The Autocycle Safety Act” that creates a new category of vehicles called “autocycles.”
We will continue to engage the help of NHTSA in developing appropriate safety standards, which will be applied consistently to all manufacturers of autocycles.