Texas Stops Registration of Polaris Slingshot Trikes. Elio Motors: 'Not a Problem'

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
texas stops registration of polaris slingshot trikes elio motors not a problem

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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2 of 17 comments
  • Racer-esq. Racer-esq. on Nov 16, 2014

    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.

  • Turf3 Turf3 on Nov 17, 2014

    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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