Elio Takes a Big Step Towards Production With E Series Prototype

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
elio takes a big step towards production with e series prototype

While it’s still a $200 million dollar question if Elio Motors will raise enough money to start production of its low-cost, high-mile-per-gallon tandem enclosed reverse trike, the automotive startup took a major step towards building vehicles for sale with completing the first (of 23) E series prototype. Elio will use it for testing and refinement of the final production design.

Though it looks very much like the P5, the E series trikes have fully engineered unibody construction made of stamped steel panels, unlike the previous five Elio prototypes that were scratch built with tubed space frames. The E series prototypes aren’t what the industry calls validation builds (there will be a 100 of those assembled at Elio’s Shreveport factory by the end of this year, Elio claims), but they’re very close to production designs.

Elio held an event introducing the E1A to a couple hundred engineers, executives of their vendors, some politicians, and a handful of media folks at what it’s calling its Pilot Operations Center in Livonia, Michigan. The company has brought its suppliers into the design process at a very early stage, and those companies are carrying a good deal of the engineering burden for the Elio trike. They all seemed genuinely excited about the project. For you Elio skeptics out there, the vendors I spoke to said Elio continues to pay its bills on time.

Paul Elio had a team from Continental pull the drape off of E1A and symbolically handed them the keys. Continental will use this prototype to develop the Elio’s anti-lock braking system. To be pedantic, E1A hasn’t really been “completed.” The headlights are just plastic mockups, but those aren’t needed for the testing Continental will be doing. Elio will provide later E series prototypes to vendors and possibly use some for destructive testing.

Besides E1A and earlier prototypes, Elio displayed unibodies in various stages of construction that will be the basis for the next three prototype builds. While there are still signs of prototyping, much of the unibody seems production ready. I asked Paul Elio about how much of the tooling is production level and he said that some of the “hard parts” are using tooling that’s close to the final form, while “soft parts” — such as interior trim pieces — are using less durable tooling.

A representative from Genesee Stamping stated that they aren’t yet using production tooling as the panels are stamped on dies made of kirksite, not steel, though the dies are still durable enough to make a couple thousand parts. While the unibody panels look close to production ready, smaller items (the right-hand-side window frame, for example) show signs of prototype fabrication.

Components that looked production ready included the steering wheel (now with a flat bottom for more room for the driver’s legs) and its adjustable (tilting and telescoping) column, windshield wiper, all the trike’s glass, radiator and electric cooling fan. The E1A has an Elio engine and the same five-speed Aisin manual transmission as will be used in the production car (a “manumatic” version of the same gearbox will be optional). The stubby gear shifter sits to the driver’s right, which reminds me of classic open wheel race cars.

The instrument panel still uses conventional-sweep dial gauges for the speedometer and tachometer, not the revised version inspired by an Elgin watch belonging to Paul Elio’s father. That’s still undergoing cost analysis by the vendor.

The exhaust manifold looked close to production, but the intake manifold is still welded up from tubing. As in the P5, the exhaust manifold dumps into an enclosed side pipe (presumably the muffler is there) that vents just in front of the rear wheel.

While the E prototypes will have composite exterior body panels, the production Elios will use steel. Elio plans on building 250,000 trikes a year and it’s easier to build with steel than fiberglass in those quantities.

I’m sure that Elio’s critics will call the E1A reveal just a show. After all, they didn’t show it running at 70 mph on nearby I-96. As a matter of fact, the prototype was only finished just 20 minutes before the event, according to Jerome Vasselo, Elio’s head of sales, and hadn’t been started prior to its reveal. In reality, all the credibility that Elio needs to demonstrate that it’s moving to production are those other three unibodies.

(One of the politicians present was U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, whose congressional district includes Livonia. She apparently had to leave the event early and said she was “so embarrassed” to be interrupting Paul Elio’s press conference. Not so embarrassed enough as to not interrupt the man’s prepared remarks to have her photo taken with him by one of her attendants. Elio, whose company still has an open loan application for a $200 million loan from the Department of Energy’s ATVM program, took it all in good spirits.)

[Images: © 2016 Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars]

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 over at Cars In Depth. – Thanks for reading – RJS

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  • JustPassinThru JustPassinThru on Jul 06, 2016

    Bottom line is this: As a motorcyclist, I'd never buy such a thing; but I wish Paul well with it. SO LONG as he does it with private investor money. If he gets the goobermint funding he's probably dreaming and scheming for...I wish him a special pocket in the Ninth Circle of Hell.

  • Sirkjeff Sirkjeff on Jul 27, 2016

    what a pain in the axx to leave a reply. why do all these news sites require to join to comment. I have to make up new passwords everytime. just so I do have my passwords that i use for important crap. Now I see a lot of hype, but come one they have over 1/3 of billion in sales already and they still cant go into production. I see a big BK in the future. plus im sure the ceo and management are getting 6 figures salaries right now. Plus they are trading stocks. just on a great pr campaign. I think im going to start car company too. who wants in. send me $100 and ill put you on the list. by the way, I email them over employment. I am professional in the automotive industry. I got an response form them, saying they not ready to hire anyone. this just tells me they wont be for in the near future. wake people pump and dump.

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