QOTD: Three's Company, or a Crowd?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd threes company or a crowd

One man’s vision of untouchable beauty is another man’s 2019 Chevy Silverado 1500, or something like that. Each one of us filters a fellow human’s or vehicle’s looks through a network of individual biases and neuroses to arrive at a verdict.

Dishy. Stunner. Sort-of cute. Dog. We’re a shallow species, and only a select few of us can see the beauty in everything.

If symmetry is indeed a key aspect of perceived beauty, then it explains the particular revulsion I feel with a certain class of vehicle, one which numerous upstart automakers seem intent on returning to our streets. If buyers are willing, of course.

I’m talking three-wheelers, and not those open-air Polaris and Campagna trikes with the 61-year-old driver behind the wheel. Upon viewing an offering (make that a would-be offering) from Elio or Electra Meccanica, yours truly is struck by the same feeling of something’s not right he felt while watching Goldmember hop into his Corbin Sparrow all those years ago.

Gesturing frantically at the backside of the car, I struggle to come to grips with the broad front end and teardrop ass of these closed-cabin three-wheelers. They look okay coming at you, then turn into a Stephen King novel going past. It’s a different story for fuselage-bodied open-top cars like the Morgan 3 Wheeler or Vanderhall Venice, both of which look pretty fetching.

There’s a practicality issue. Designed with low-cost, ultra-efficient commuting in mind, closed-cabin three-wheelers offer either a single chair or a 1+1 seating arrangement — limiting their role to that envisioned by the manufacturer. No work truck turned family sedan turned off-roader here. Regulations vary, too. Depending on jurisdiction, that three-wheeler could be classified as a motorcycle, requiring the driver obtain an additional license, an autocycle, or even a car. Things are falling into place for three-wheelers on that front, at least, which is great news for companies like Polaris.

But a Slingshot is a debatably fun plaything, not a Focus replacement. It ain’t a nerdy teardrop on three wheels.

As well, you may have noticed that gas remains cheap and very plentiful. It’s not hard to make the case for a low five-figure Mirage over a greener, high four-figure trike. So, will a mass-market three-wheeler ever take off in the United States, or will the vehicle type remain forever an oddity?

[Image: Electra Meccanica]

Comments
Join the conversation
5 of 45 comments
  • Gedrven Gedrven on Feb 27, 2019

    Just about the only reason for three-wheeled cars' existence is regulatory loopholes. If they get adopted on a large scale by the general population of the vehicle-ignorant (and often stupid as well), and statistics start piling up about general-population incidents, those loopholes will eventually close. A Personal Transport Vehicle, a size class down from the "Smart", a car optimized for the mission that most cars perform most of the time anyway, really needs to be available to drivers. It's just wasteful to carry four extra seats, all the sheetmetal to contain them, and the powertrain to move all that crap, when all you need is one good seat with a roof and climate control. If available, I would buy something like a 80mpg Elio in a heartbeat, use it 95% of the time, and have my 15mpg 4x4 truck (or 20mpg minivan) for that other 5%. Manufacturing such a car would be a technical cakewalk, but a legal impossibility. So one exploits a loophole whereby removing one wheel - making it less capable and less safe - legally exempts it from normal car regulations. A fundamental design flaw becomes the price to pay for degrees of freedom elsewhere in the design. Some find it a fair price; reasonable people can disagree here. But there's no disagreement that the price is artificial. The reason for many of the regulations is to reduce the incidence of the vehicularly clueless maiming themselves and their passengers by driving things whose safety depends more on personal responsibility and competence, than electronannies, cages, and airbags. At the same time there's (arguably) a legitimate societal interest in preventing people from driving "unsafe" vehicles only because they can't afford better. One solution might look something like this: allow things like a 4-wheel Elio, but restrict its use. Not to the rich, not to the poor, but to those who demonstrate that 1. they know what they're getting into, and 2. they can handle the machine itself. We already do this for motorcycles and large vehicles; surely the rules for those can be adapted to small 4-wheelers?

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Feb 27, 2019

    As a kid I saw the GM "Lean Machine" at Epcot Center and it has always stuck in my mind: https://futureprobe.blogspot.com/2009/08/lean-machine-transcenter-artifact.html It seems like the single wheel belongs at the front. Put a BEV powertrain in it with half the battery size of your sedan - could still get more range and performance (better aero, lighter weight, less cost compared to a sedan). Safer than a motorcycle, stay out of the weather - ideal for commuting to work.

    • See 2 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Feb 28, 2019

      @ToolGuy Heh.. I know that episode well. That said, it almost sounds like that triangular car that Nissan, I believe, ran for a couple years in one of the race circuits could work for you. I seem to recall that it was pretty fast on the straights but apparently its handling for cornering was questionable... Not sure tilting could affect that sufficiently though, even with wings to hold that nose down. And I don't think a rudder on the nose would help much at lower speeds. Definitely need a way to reduce 'push' (understeer) at speed. By the way, I am quite the fan of the Prowler but it would always be a 'toy' car, impractical for everyday driving. And with the prices of cars today, it has become more difficult to own a daily runabout, a family hauler and a 'toy' all at the same time. Oh, I think we all know what we want--that differs for everybody--but we can't afford to get all of them.

  • MaintenanceCosts All I want is one more cylinder. One more cylinder and I would happily pay the diesel fraud company almost whatever they wanted for it.
  • SPPPP US like Citroen - nothing moves.
  • Jeff S Corey--Thanks again for this serious and despite the lack of comments this is an excellent series. Powell Crosley does not get enough recognition and is largely forgotten even in his hometown of Cincinnati although the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Airport has 2 Crosley cars on display. Crosley revolutionized radios by making an affordable radio that the masses could afford similar to what Henry Ford did with the Model T. Both Crosley and Ford did not invent the radio and the car but they made them widespread by making them affordable. I did not know about the Icyball but I did know about Crosley refrigerators, airplanes, cars, and radios.
  • Oberkanone C5 Aircross is the only vehicle that would have any appeal in North America. Can't see it doing well with Citroen badge, maybe a chance with Chrysler badge.
  • Oberkanone 1921 thru 1936 are the best
Next