By on November 14, 2014


The makers of the spate of reverse three wheelers now on, or about to be on, sale including the Morgan 3 Wheeler, the proposed Elio Motors vehicle, and Polaris’ Slingshot, now just arriving at dealers, have used the fact that their vehicles are legally considered motorcycles, not cars to ease their passage through regulatory waters. As some critics of the Elio project have pointed out, those that live by their legal classification as not-cars, may also find legal realities that get in the way of selling their “motorcycles”. For example, will drivers be required to wear helmets in those jurisdictions that require them on motorcycle riders? With some already considering the Elio to be a form of birth control for single guys, having to wear a helmet inside it would make it even dorkier. Elio claims those problems are moot. Perhaps so, but just as Polaris is launching the Slingshot, a reverse trike starting at $20K, powered by a 2.4 liter GM Ecotec 4 cylinder engine, they have discovered that the State of Texas will not let the vehicle be registered there.

Though Polaris had already received approval from Texas to sell the Slingshot in the state, according to a letter to dealers posted on a Slingshot forum on November 4th they were notified by the Vehicle Titling and Registration Division of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that the DMV was going to be taking the position that even if dealers are licensed to sell it as a motorcycle, owners of the Slingshot will not be able to register it because it is not street legal as far as Texas motorcycles are concerned. Jesse James moved to Texas and his choppers are street legal, despite their apparent near lack of vehicle dynamics short of straight line acceleration, but the Slingshot, which comes with seat belts and roll bars as well as brakes on all of its wheels, is not. That’s because the Texas DMZ says that the rider of a motorcycle must sit in a “saddle” position and they’re interpreting that to mean that the seat must be between the rider’s legs. As with other reverse trikes, the Slingshot has seats, not a saddle that is straddled.


As can be imagined, both Slingshot dealers and customers in Texas who have placed deposits are not happy. Polaris has told dealers that it’s in discussions with higher-ups  in the Texas DMV to resolve the situation. I’d imagine that Polaris is raising the issue of the Morgan and the Campagna T-Rex, both of which feature side by side seating with automotive type seats and haven’t had problems being registered in Texas. It seems to me that they could also raise the issue of  the fact that many motorcycle “saddles” are in fact seats that are sat upon, not astride, even if the gas tanks (or the stylistic replicants thereof) sit between the rider’s legs. The seats on Polaris’ own Victory and Indian motorcycle brands, at least their touring bikes, are probably closer to those in a car than to the saddle on my Litespeed bicycle.


It’s ironic that Polaris has run into this problem. They’ve been trying very hard for the Slingshot to be a not-car. When I contacted the company’s press apparatus a couple of months ago about getting a review vehicle for TTAC, I was told that they are deliberately not working with the automotive press. Since local dealers love publicity, as TTAC’s reverse trike guy I’ve still been able to make arrangements to have access to a Slingshot for a capsule review when demos arrive in the next couple of weeks, but the Polaris company and Slingshot enterprise are trying very hard to not be considered an automobile.

Though with it’s tandem seating layout the Elio reverse trike has a similarity with actual motorcycles that the side by side Slingshot does not, Elio Motors is not concerned about the Slingshot’s registration woes in the Lone Star state. TTAC asked Elio for a comment and we were told, “it is our understanding that this does not apply to Elio because we have an enclosed cab and safety belts.” Since the Polaris Slingshot also has automotive seat belts, the fact that the Elio has three point harnesses  seems moot, but the fact that it’s an enclosed vehicle may make a difference, at least in terms of how Texas regulators see it. If you'[re trying to convince a regulator that your vehicle is legally a motorcycle, is it a good idea to point out things like like Bela Barenyi-style crush zones, airbags and other automotive safety features?

As a followup, I’ve asked Elio Motors if they’ve had any discussions with the Texas DMV about getting their vehicle registered in that state.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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17 Comments on “Texas Stops Registration of Polaris Slingshot Trikes. Elio Motors: ‘Not a Problem’...”

  • avatar

    Whatever it is it looks like a hell of a lot of fun

  • avatar

    Of course this isn’t a problem for Elio’s three wheeled contraption…. Because he has no intention of building any! It’s a fund raising website, not a car/motorcycle/wheelbarrow company.
    And helmets are not required in Texas if you’re insured and over 21. They passed that law, and then it was overturned.

  • avatar

    Meh, this is a regulatory position where I don’t really see an issue. They’re never going to be built in such huge numbers that they pose a hazard as registered ‘motorcycles’ and the issue isn’t that they’re inherently unsafe but that they don’t comply with the relatively narrow definition of a motorcycle.

    Just adding a sub-category for them would actually be sufficient, so that to enter the market this in-between motor-trike could just have to meet these regulations and that way they’re neither a car or a motorcycle completely.

  • avatar

    You managed to work in the fact that you ride a Litespeed and that you have the much-coveted TTAC Reverse-Trike beat. Kudos.

  • avatar

    What’s a ‘ Lightspeed ‘ ? I googled it and got nothing Vehicle related .

    Trikes are neat , I may be forced to try one in a few years .


    • 0 avatar

      It’s a bicycle, Nate

    • 0 avatar

      They are *very* nice bicycles…..

      • 0 avatar

        The best welds I’ve ever seen, bar none. They weld titanium smoother than most shops can do steel. Titanium won’t corrode at normal atmospheric conditions on earth so Ti bikes are often unpainted with the welds right there to see. No fillet grinding and they’re still remarkably smooth.

        I think titanium is the perfect material for bikes, not as punishingly stiff as aluminum but still lively.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re premium bicycles, spelled Litespeed instead of Lightspeed.

      edit: unnecessary post because I read the article before the comments.

      • 0 avatar

        Titanium is cool stuff, add in some big tires and a Ti framed bike will float over chipseal like a hovercraft instead of vibrating your teeth out like an aluminum bike.
        Someday these guys will get a visit because they are local and will do custom work.
        While this is not TTAB other top Ti frame sources are Moots in Colorado and Lysnkey which is the family that started Litespeed.

  • avatar

    In theory motorcycles should be regulated tot eh same standards as cars… which would make them impossible. Obviously they had a good lobby and got exemptions. Like for the fact that motorbikes tip over when parked, which doesn’t happen to most cars.

    Since motorbikes won’t disappear, why not create two categories. Safe cars that need to meet the rules. and unsafe other things. That could be motorbikes, and those trikes, those 4-wheelers. they need to meet lower standards. but the type of seat is not relevant unless it would impact safety. that rule could include that if there is a cage and airbag no helmet is needed, if there is not, a helmet is needed.

  • avatar

    Did anyone get in trouble for releasing a (very reasonable) confidential memo?

  • avatar

    Texas does not get to decide what kinds of vehicles can be registered in Texas. And neither does any other state.

    The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations preempt state law. States cannot make laws that are less or more stringent than the federal laws.

    However, I can see why Polaris would rather resolve this quietly than sue Texas in Federal court.

    Polaris would win, but the attention from the case could quite possibly lead to a revision of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations defining sit-down trikes as cars.

  • avatar

    This seems strange; I lived in Texas for 44 years, and I’m pretty sure I saw a lot of motor scooters with valid plates there (think Vespa). Don’t you sit with both feet together on a scooter, rather than straddling the frame and gas tank as on a motorcycle? So how can scooters be registered? Or are there legal restrictions on their use (such as no controlled access freeway use)?

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