Here’s our first look at Elio Motors’ 84-mpg P5 prototype

For most of the automotive collective, November 18 was a banner day at the 2015 LA Auto Show. We saw the debut of the beautiful Fiat 124 Spider, the wraps came off the 10th-generation Honda Civic Coupe for the first time, and the topless Range Rover Evoque caused quite the commotion for better or for worse. On November 19, though, another car was unveiled to the public, one you might call the people’s main event.

With much anticipation, Arizona startup Elio Motors debuted its P5 prototype vehicle in LA, which closely previews the three-wheeled, 84-mpg, $6,800 commuter car that aims to go on sale at the end of next year. The prototype features a new, longer front end that is more aerodynamic than its predecessor, as well as side exhausts and a 0.9-liter, 55-horsepower, three-cylinder engine that was developed specifically for Elio. The car isn’t special for its unique looks or performance though, rather its blend of financial accessibility and low operating costs, both of which could grant unprecedented amounts of mobility to those less fortunate.

Thus far, 47,331 interested parties have plunked down cash to reserve their slots. But after a multitude of funding-related delays — the vehicle has been “coming soon” for years — there are still doubts that the car will ever be sold. Automotive startups come and go with frequency, so with the P5 at his back, Elio explained why his company would not suffer the same fate.

“I think we’re doing things different in a lot of ways,” he said. “First of all, there’s no new technology allowed on this vehicle. We call it the ‘four musts’ on every engineer’s desk: 84 mpg, $6,800, safe, no new technology. Every part on this vehicle is either in production or [a] slight modification from something that’s already in production, so we substantially mitigate the technical risk.”

Elio Motors P4 Prototype
Paul Elio with the P4 prototype

Combined with an ever-growing list of suppliers, an inherited production facility from General Motors’ 2009 bankruptcy, and a “decent margin” embedded in the car’s base price, Elio is confident that the car’s fourth quarter 2016 release date will come to fruition. That being said, there is still a long way to go.

To manufacture the vehicle, Elio Motors needs about $300 million. The brand has raised about $75 million so far, with another $186 million pending with the Department of Energy’s ATVM loan program. A new rule passed by the SEC allows Elio to sell stock to non-accredited investors as well, and the company claims it could bring in another $25 million or so. The numbers (sorta) add up, but as any fundraiser will tell you, pledged dollars are not the same as real dollars.

Finances are one thing, but the product itself seems to make a lot of sense. Technically a motorcycle given its three-wheeled status, the P5 could potentially be cheaper to insure than most cars, and consequentially, it should be able to drive in HOV lane. It’s also much safer than a bike with its full roll cage, two seat belts, three airbags, electronic stability control, and ABS system. If you ask Elio, it’s pretty excitable behind the wheel as well.

“It’s fun,” he proclaimed. “The architecture itself is fun — sitting right between the front two wheels — and the motor and transmission work very well. It’s fun to drive.”

Without a doubt, the stakes for Elio Motors are high. We just hope that the vehicle, which seems to be perpetually coming next year, brings its three-wheeled flavor of fun to the streets soon. Watch the full P5 unveiling below.

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