I Agree, Sondors Electric Autocycle is Everything Elio Is Not

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
i agree sondors electric autocycle is everything elio is not

Last year, Storm Sondors, a Malibu-based entrepreneur, used an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to launch a very basic $499 electric bicycle. He’s since sold 15,000 of his Asian-made electric bikes.

Buoyed by that success, Mr. Sondors has announced the creation of the Sondors Electric Car Company, which he says will sell an electric-powered, aluminum-bodied, three-passenger, enclosed reverse trike with a variety of battery pack options that offer 50 to 200 miles of range.

The Sondors electric trike is supposed to have a starting price of $10,000 and will be called the Model Sondors, more likely a nod to Tesla than to Henry Ford.

The folks over at Gas2.org think the Model Sondors is everything the proposed Elio is not. I agree with that statement, though not in the same way as Gas2go’s Steve Hanley.

Hanley’s colleague at Gas2.org, former TTAC contributor Jo Borras, has been one of Elio’s most vocal critics. Hanley echoes Borras, saying, “Elio has promised much but delivered little in the seven years since it began.”

Considering Elio is nearing production of a fully engineered vehicle with a unique unibody and its own engine, and Sondors is crowdsourcing money to build the first prototype of a vehicle for which it has released almost no details, dinging Elio for broken promises seems unfair in this context.

For his part, Sondors says he wants to make an affordable and practical electric car. To achieve that end, he says his team is designing the vehicle from scratch, “forgoing the unnecessary complexities and focusing on building a technology that people will love. It’s not about complicated engineering, it’s about ingenious technology.”

No details on that ingenious technology have been forthcoming besides range figures, the fact that the vehicle’s body will be constructed of aluminum, and it will be “charged by plugging it into the same outlet you plug a smartphone into every day.” One presumes that Sondors means a wall outlet, not the 4.5V 0.5A micro USB thing you use for your phone.

Like Elio and Tesla, there will be no independent Sondors dealers. The trikes will be sold directly from whatever factory in China Sondors contracts to make them.

It’s interesting that Sondors touts his bicycle company as a distributor, not a manufacturer. His e-bikes are made in the Far East and then drop shipped from their contractor directly to customers. One presumes he would use the same manufacturing model for his trikes.

To get the enterprise off of the ground, Sondors has started another crowdfunding campaign, this time at StartEngine, to raise the $1 million in capital needed to build its first working prototype. That effort won’t be shown to the public until sometime in 2017. For a minimum investment of $120, supporters get a reservation and ten shares of common stock in the company. So far, supporters have pledged about $240,000.

When Elio Motors started selling stock — around the time it introduced its fifth prototype first to qualified investors and then a larger offering under the Reg A+ provisions — I told Paul Elio to expect some criticism. Preston Tucker’s legal problems were partly the result of offering stock in a company that had no product to sell. Some of the same folks who raised eyebrows over Elio’s financing haven’t made a peep of skepticism about Sondors.

After it gets its first prototype built, Sondors will have a preorder program to determine sales interest and capital needs, followed by a second round of financing, presumably to start production. Sondors hopes to have as many as 120,000 initial orders by the time the car goes into production. Elio Motors currently has about 60,000 paid reservations for its trike, with an introductory price of $7,300.

As I’ve said concerning Elio, I’m a Detroiter and the idea of someone starting up a car company is romantic to me. I’m just not sure Storm Sondors understands the difference between designing a bicycle and mass producing something that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. I know making something powered by electrons rather than evil gasoline gives it a halo of wonderfulness, but that doesn’t make it any easier to engineer. Designing any product from the ground up takes time. Designing something as complicated as a car takes years. Multi-billion dollar automakers brag when they can do it in less than two years. Tesla has had delays in getting its vehicles to market, and it’s using real automotive engineers, hired in Detroit, Tokyo and Stuttgart, not contract bicycle makers in China.

Mr. Sondors thinks he can engineer and build a working prototype in a year for $1 million. By comparison, Elio has burned through about $93 million dollars since 2009, when it showed its first prototype. Since then, it’s had four more true prototypes made. The latest, P5, has Elio’s own IAV-developed engine. Elio Motors is currently building a run of about two dozen pre-production vehicles that will be used to fine tune things for production. Those vehicles have a fully engineered unibody made of stamped steel panels, as well as Elio’s engines and the Aisin transmissions that’ll be used in production.

Elio is still a long shot. It still needs to raise the better part of a quarter billion dollars to buy production tooling and start building vehicles in its factory in Louisiana. I won’t bet $120 on Sondors, but I would bet $120 on Elio making it to production before Sondors.

I suppose in our crowdsourcing era, it might be quaint to bring up a term from earlier in the digital age: we used to call stuff like the Model Sondors “vaporware.” No mention of where it will be made, what kind of battery cells or motors, whether it will have front- or rear-wheel drive, no 0-60 mph times — or even if it’ll be able to go 60 miles an hour. Jo Borras is speculating that at the low price quoted by Sondors, the car will have to be some kind of low-speed neighborhood electric vehicle.

Even so, people have been less skeptical of the Sondors EV than of the Faraday Future venture. When it was first announced, the Faraday Future EV enterprise was mocked as not serious, but FF has serious financial support from Chinese backers and it’s hired, according to some reports, as many as a thousand engineers. Sondors has sold some e-bikes, put up a crowdfunding page, and has a weird video featuring Storm telling us about his dislike for furniture.

Elio may not have made a production car, but all that the Sondors Electric Car Company has produced so far are some nice computer renderings of a very slick looking three-wheeled coupe. Comparing pretty CGI renderings to a fully engineered and almost completely developed motor vehicle, I think it is fair to say, for the time being, the Model Sondors is indeed everything the Elio is not: vaporware.

For more information, you can check out the Sondors Electric Car Facebook page for developments. If you’d like to invest, its StartEngine page is here.

[Images: Sondors Electric Car Company]

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2 of 26 comments
  • Stuki Stuki on Oct 12, 2016

    When money is being printed up and handed, no strings attached, to anyone located in an approved zipcode; what the (once were) "market" rewards, is not boring old engineering. But rather cheesy feelgood stories. By tanned guys with ponytails who surf expensive beaches. For post wall women who "made their money" in the "divorce market." Compared to this latest round in America's descent into a no holds barred banana republic, Divine Interventures was positively down to earth.

  • Fred Fred on Mar 23, 2017

    So, what's the story 6 months down the road? Elio has "sharply curtailed operations" due to lack of funding. Sondors got the $1M, and has started on the prototype. While both guys appear to be pretty flakey in their own ways, Sondors is far more likely to make it to production. One million is high for a prototype. Sondors actually projected to be able to build the prototype for significantly less. It is not logical to use Elio's incompetence (and dishonest) as a reason to believe that Sondors will not get far more bang for the buck. I didn't put any cash into either of their pockets, but I strongly believe that we will see real prototypes from Sondors before we will from Elio. Yeah, I know about the E-series, but those are only slightly improved junk over the P-series show cars. Real prototypes = real tests, real numbers, real drives. Let's check back in 6 more months. My prediction? Elio finally folds officially. Sondors has 2-3 iterations of prototypes undergoing testing.

  • Cprescott Ford killed the TRANSit because it identified itself as a station wagon.
  • Crtfour I live in East Tennessee where most of the time driving is pretty low stress. But for work I have the misfortune of passing through Atlanta every 3-4 months. And passing through downtown you have to change lanes and merge so many times I still can't seem to keep it straight. On my last trip I ended up in an exit only lane ; the lane next to me where I had to get into was stopped so I was blocking the exit lane with this guy behind me blowing his horn and flashing his lights. I finally managed to get over finally allowing this guy to floor it and be on it's way. I consider myself a good driver with the exception of passing through there.
  • Pishta Those 80 B2000's were very Ford Courier like but the 81's had a completely new for Mazda dash. Less pods, more integration in one window. These didn't get the F motor until 84(?) only with the B2200 option. Single wall beds had lost of rust through issues. The 80 Quad headlamp grill was very rare, I dont rememeer seeing but one growing up.
  • FreedMike So it has transited out of existence here...
  • TheEndlessEnigma Self fulfilling prophesy. Ford spends virtually nothing on sales and marketing for the Transit....then scratches their collective heads not understand why it doesn't sell to their assumed objectives. If you do not market the vehicle, it will not sell. Pretty simple to understand really. Ford sure is working hard to make itself a niche automobile company, trucks and SUV's only. But that's OK, Kia/Hyundai/Toyota/Honda and yes even Volkswagen & Nissan are more than happy to sell to those customers Ford is apparently happy to walk away from.