By on March 9, 2015

Elio Motors, the startup automaker hoping to produce and sell a low cost, high mileage reverse trike announced yesterday that the prototype of the IAV designed 0.9 liter, three cylinder single overhead cam engine to be used in their vehicle has successfully started dynamometer testing. A short video of the engine running in a test cell has also been released. While it remains to be seen if Elio will be able to raise the $200 million or so they say they need to start production in 2016 (pushed back from this year), the engine test is one of the more important steps on the journey to reach that goal.

While no horsepower or torque figures have been released, Elio Motors founder and CEO, Paul Elio, expressed satisfaction with the initial testing. “We are extremely pleased with our first run on the dynamometer,” Elio said. “Seeing this new technology come to fruition has been one of the most exciting stages in our history. This prototype puts us right were we need to be at this stage of development.”

Considering how many existing car companies are making or developing three cylinder engines with about one liter of displacement, many have questioned why Elio Motors isn’t just buying an off the shelf motor from another company, particularly since the company has publicized how they plan to keep costs and prices low by using many components already being produced by automotive suppliers along with more bespoke parts like their engine. Paul Elio addressed that question in the company’s announcement. “We are literally trying to reinvent the auto industry, so why go the conventional route and rework someone else’s engine? There really was nothing available that combined the speed and power that we want and our customers deserve.”

That’s an interesting comment because at 55 horsepower, the Elio engine makes less than half the power of Ford’s one liter Ecoboost triple, though the Ecoboost is, of course, turbocharged. Previously, Elio Motors indicated to TTAC that Comau, which is doing Elio’s production engineering and automation at GM’s former Shreveport, LA factory where Elio hopes to maker their trike, has reserved an assembly station on the engine line for the installation of a possible turbocharger.

Paul Elio’s remarks are also interesting because IAV is indeed more or less reworking the design of the Suzuki triple most familiar to Americans as the engine in the Geo Metro. That’s the same engine that Elio Motors has been using in their prototype mules, like the one I test drove last summer. I suppose Paul’s entitled to some wiggle room on his statement because although the Elio 0.9 liter engine is ultimately based on the Suzuki architecture, and while Elio initially did consider putting the Suzuki motor back into production, they determined that it simply was not a modern enough design to meet their objectives and the engine has been redesigned. All of the major engine components were designed specifically for Elio by IAV, including the cylinder block, cylinder head, valve cover, front cover, oil pan, crankshaft, camshaft, valve train, pistons, connecting rods, bearings and water pump.

TTAC has asked Elio Motors about the actual horsepower and torque results from the testing and we’ll publish them if and when we get them.

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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20 Comments on “Elio Motors Dyno Tests Engine Prototype...”


  • avatar

    Lest people forget, back when Elio first started engineering their vehicle and engine, gas was $4+/gal. and Ford and Chevy and other suppliers likely didn’t have a single engine to spare, they were all going into Ford & Chevy’s compact offerings.

  • avatar
    arthurk45

    Considering how seriou Paul Elio is about keeping costs within his goal, it’s obvious that the new motor was an absolute necessity – no existing 4 cylinder could have gotten them the mileage they had targetted. Building a new engine ws a cost Elio did not want, but they had no choice without giving up other goals. Aside from no meetig their specs,I’m certain a motor from major automaker would cost more than it will cost Elio to build it themselves. For one thing, they don’t have to shoulder
    massive UAW wages.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      And, although Elio is not seeking to do a lot of fancy IP but rather to do as much off-the-shelf as possible, they may be able to get some IP on a really nice 3-cylinder, and that would most certainly help with his investor relations. Their own engine might cost a lot more up front, but investors understand a one-time, amortized cost versus one that scales with sales.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    “We are literally trying to reinvent the auto industry, so why go the conventional route and rework someone else’s engine? There really was nothing available that combined the speed and power that we want and our customers deserve.”

    These little guys seem to think they can pull off a miracle by making something better than…

    Ford
    Suzuki
    Yamaha
    Daihatsui
    FHI
    Kawasaki
    Honda
    Yanmar
    Mazda
    Many more…

    I bet this story is making the email rounds at said companies’ engineering departments this morning.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I’m not familiar with the consultancy folks they’ve contracted with to actually design the engine (IAV Automotive). The website indicates they work with pretty much everybody in the auto biz, but I’d be interested in feedback from insiders.

      • 0 avatar
        Fusion

        They are 50 % owned by vw,with the Rest being owned by major First Tier suppliers like Continental.Lots of Work for vw,though they Do cooperate with basically everyone.

        More than 6000 employees,half a Billion Euros in revenue. So they are quite a serious Partner, which should be able to deliver as long as they keep getting paid… ;)

  • avatar
    TW5

    I think Elio explained the engine situation previously. Automobile engines are all optimized for vehicles weighing at least 2500lbs with much larger frontal area. To reach mileage and emissions targets set by the company, they must optimize an engine for an autocycle.

    It will be interesting to see if Elio can survive. They created a product that essentially pays people to use it for commuting, but only if gasoline prices are hovering around $4/gallon. Unless state legislatures increase gasoline taxes substantially to deal with CAFE, I can’t see $4 gasoline returning anytime soon.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      As Crabspirits pointed out, between the various micro car and motorcycle engines available on the market, Elio had a wide selection of powertrains that they could have made work considering the immense cost involved in developing an engine. I don’t think the small benefits, if there are any, would be worth the cost.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        I think a much more realistic approach would have been to use a purchased engine to launch, and if the concept actually sells, then increase the Elio manufactured content over time. Even if the IAV-designed engine is an engineering tour de force, it’s difficult to believe it would add more than percentage points of performance and fuel economy vs what is out there worldwide today.

  • avatar
    tylermattikow

    I would have gone with the Triumph Motorcycle Triple. Currently it is makes 130 or so HP and 80LB/feet of torque in the speed triple at 1050cc. Just re-tune it for a bit more efficiency and less power and your done.

  • avatar
    daniel g.

    again, any kei car in japan use a 3 cilinder engine of 660cc an 64cv max with turbo, is much different this engine? also exist 1 liter version of the same cars, daihatsu (to name one) is a great manufacturer.

    the other way a motorcycle engine, maybe a call to lazareth in france is possible, has plenty of experience with yamaha r1 engine in trikes

    or a new way: the opoc engine (2 years ago a see here a post of the development) why not use this option?

  • avatar
    wmba

    Yup, if you pay the engineering company enough money, they will produce a working engine for you. Congrats on that at least.

    The actual breathless announcement last week from Elio claimed that the engine is the first car engine produced by a startup in 60 years – that’s since 1955.

    Uh, Honda? Hyundai, Lotus 4 and V8, 3 dozen Chinese startups would beg to differ. I’m sure there are others.

    Proclamations like this just cement my disdain for Elio. Who in their right mind would design a 2 valve-head engine as a feature for fuel economy in this day and age? Boggles my mind how insular this company is, so intent on navel-gazing.

    It’s a vehicle for conspiracy theorists who figure the big bad world is out to get ’em if you go regular commercial. I’m surprised Elio hasn’t invented a new religion to go along with the schmaltz, appeals to patriotism, fake enviro-quackery and unctuous tone. Help us by donating to get your name on the list – isn’t that the usual way these strange people appeal to the huddled masses? Minus the free tracts mailed straight to your home – now you get your name on a ephemeral production list instead.

    The mind reels. At $6800 a pop, they won’t even cover their fixed overheads is my guess. But did anyone with a cult vision and adoring believers ever let reality intrude on their dreams? When the end comes, passing out suspicious Kool-Aid eliminates all problems, along with blaming all external forces for ruining the vision and scuppering the exalted plans. It’s all happened before with depressing frequency, but a sucker is born every minute eager to believe.

    Ah, dear oh dear.

  • avatar
    Frankie the Hollywood Scum

    1. That little guy is on a new AVL eddy current dyno. That is the right tool for the job.
    2. The engine has very little instrumentation on it. Could just be because it is a shakedown, could indicate capability.
    3. Full accessories on the engine is intrsting. Normally you would only do that for SAE power tests, an emission/FE cycle, or perhaps testing the friction of the accessories. It’s not common if you are doing core development.

    This is pure hubris. They would be smarter to use the engine development cash on development of the rest of the vehicle.

  • avatar
    Jgwag1985

    Paul Elio plays both sides of the fence. Nothing (engine) met our needs, yet he went to OE’s for engines. …….Posters here blame the OE’s for high cost(on engine, need to design their own). Couldn’t Elio negotiate a deal to build the OE engine themselves. Couldn’t figure out a licensing agreement?

    As an All-In depositor, I am thoroughly disgusted with Paul Elio and his lies, and the total wack jobs at the Elio forums that continue to support Elio….The theories they come up with, it’s big oil, the automakers trying to kill it. They can sell at $6800 because they will sell CAFE credits.

    Makes me wonder if Paul Elio really had an engineering firm, and why did it go out of business? Was it the economy, the inability to meet a deadline, or poor engineering?

    I had high hopes (totally misguided, I will admit too) about this being built. Now I just want the whole saga over. End it now, quit dangling the carrot with no chance of getting it.

    No big press conference for this engine with all the potential investors or even Paul Elio in the background? So they delayed this(unveiling) for a month because??

    • 0 avatar

      I was told by Elio management that the dyno tests were pushed back because delays in getting the parts machined and validated meant they missed their scheduled window in the dyno cell.

    • 0 avatar
      Tenyearsgone

      You should look into Elio’s engineering firm (ESG Engineering), he took in a lot of money to design a seat adjustment mechanism and failed to deliver. Yet he walked away with millions, his seed money to start the Elio project. When this thing fails he’ll walk away with millions more. See a pattern? Over promise, get a lot of money up front, fail to deliver, walk away with money, repeat.

      • 0 avatar
        Jgwag1985

        Wow, just wow. Thank-you. Did not know that…………..without knowing that I always felt Paul could get this built, if he gave up some power/control/ownership. I see the pattern now.

  • avatar
    baconator

    There are many folks reading TTAC who work in automotive engineering and it would be great to hear from you. It seems vanishingly unlikely to me that a custom-designed engine would possibly, under any circumstances, be a cost effective solution – can anyone confirm or deny?

    Having read many interviews of the CEOs of small manufacturers, it seems like the lessons are always (1) lease rather than build your factory (Delorean, Weismann) and (2) avoid making your own engines (TVR and Cizeta, or on the more successful side of this choice, Tesla, Lotus, Hennessy, Maruti, Pagani). If you ignore these two lessons, the only path to success is to start as part of a well-capitalized and patient manufacturing conglomerate (Hyundai/Kia, Subaru, Proton, Tata).

    I continue to think that there is untapped demand for an Elio-style “car,” but I’m scratching my head at Elio’s management. Honestly, for a company with that many pre-orders to be unable to raise $200M in this free-flowing private equity market – and with Tesla as a comp, no less! – is not encouraging.

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