Elio Motors: NHTSA Proposal to Regulate Three-wheelers as Cars 'Would Not Apply'

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
elio motors nhtsa proposal to regulate three wheelers as cars 8216 would not apply

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.

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2 of 49 comments
  • TonyJZX TonyJZX on Jan 11, 2016

    see now the tandem seating makes sense i always thought it was stupid to have essentially the same width/side footprint as a car but only have motorcycle style seating...its purely to pass regulations, hopefully as someone up there said, the tata nano seems like a more reasonable choice even in the west or that $10k versa or kia rio or any of the super small stripped out sub compacts

  • Raybo Raybo on Jan 24, 2016

    Sure you can buy a used car for less than the targeted price of an Elio. But, it's still a used car, and it probably doesn't come with a 36 month warranty right out of the box, and definitely doesn't get the targeted MPG of an Elio, which means that the used car will soon cost you more than the Elio, and the used car just keeps getting older and more expensive to drive and maintain. Is it as crash safe as a 4 wheeled vehicle? Probably not, but as long as it is safe to drive, meaning it drives and handles well and doesn't start falling apart simply by driving it, then what does it matter whether or not it's as crash safe as a normal 4 wheeled vehicle? If you don't like the safety aspects of it, then don't buy one. But, if you get hit by one, the repair costs for your car/truck will be much less, that's for sure. And, the injuries you will receive from colliding with one will surely be less severe, or even non-existent. Oh, by the way, don't buy a motorcycle either, they are even less crash safe than an Elio. Whether it's ultimately classified as a car, or a motorcycle, or an autocycle, or something else, doesn't really matter to most folks. It gets you from point A to point B in the same time as a 4 wheeled car, keeps the weather out, beats the heck out of the MPG of any 4 wheel vehicle on the road, and costs the owner less than 4 wheeled vehicle owners are paying for fuel alone, are just some of the reasons that the Elio makes a whole lot of sense. Does it cause concern by existing automakers, new car dealers, used car dealers, motor cycle manufacturers and dealers, etc? Well, it certainly should! Is that a bad thing? No, absolutely not! Maybe they will start thinking in different directions, rather than the "get as much money from the buyer as you can" attitude they have now. Or the "who cares about poor people who can't afford our products" attitude. Or the "force them to buy all the options even if they don't want all of them" attitude. We can go on and on with this stuff! Government regulations should not make it illegal to sell the Elio, simply because it is technically neither a car/truck nor a motorcycle, by classification. The fact is, the Elio is just as viable a means of transportation for the motoring public as a car/truck or a motorcycle. It also helps reduce our oil/gasoline consumption, provides extremely economical mobility for a growing population of poor people, will help rid the roads of the 20-50+ year old, unreliable and frequently unsafe vehicles that many of those poorer people are currently forced to drive, etc., etc.. Maybe the Elio never becomes a reality, on the roads, but that should be for reasons other than the government killing it via big business/politically biased regulations. If Elio fails it should be of their own doing, not the government's.

  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.
  • Marvin Im a current owner of a 2012 Golf R 2 Door with 5 grand on the odometer . Fun car to drive ! It's my summer cruiser. 2006 GLI with 33,000 . The R can be money pit if service by the dealership. For both cars I deal with Foreign car specialist , non union shop but they know their stuff !!! From what I gather the newer R's 22,23' too many electronic controls on the screen, plus the 12 is the last of the of the trouble free ones and fun to drive no on screen electronics Maze !
  • VoGhost It's very odd to me to see so many commenters reflexively attack an American company like this. Maybe they will be able to find a job with BYD or Vinfast.