This week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Elio Motors debuted its fifth autocycle prototype – the P5 – in pre-production form.
One key difference between the P5 and previous iterations is the newest model is powered by Elio’s own proprietary engine. The three-cylinder 0.9-liter engine was designed by Elio Motors after the company concluded that the Geo Metro engines it previously used weren’t well-suited for the autocycle.
And though Elio’s three-wheeled vehicle shares some characteristics with a motorcycle, engineers also crossed a motorcycle engine off their list.
“Those things make all kinds of horsepower at about 12,000 rpm,” said Kody Klindt, project development director for IAV in an interview with Autoweek. “No motorcycle engine would meet our needs.”
The new powerplant was built by IAV (known for building engines for clients such as Bugatti) with some feedback from one of Porsche’s R&D facilities. Similar to its rescinded Geo powerplant, Elio’s engine hits redline at a much lower 7,000 to 7,200 rpm. Output has been rated at 60 horsepower and 55 pounds-feet of torque.
Cost has been a constant factor for Elio as the engine was designed. Some technologies, such as variable valve timing and a dual overhead cam, were nixed because they would put the powertrain over-budget. Other systems, including direct injection, were passed over for now (the P5 uses port fuel injection) but may be brought back in later.
“Direct injection is a great technology to help with fuel economy, but it comes at a premium cost,” Klindt said when the engine was being developed. “You have high-pressure injectors, a high-pressure fuel rail and a high-pressure fuel pump. One of the design goals for this project is to keep it an economically feasible design (a.k.a. financially economical). This aforementioned extra expense and complexity was considered unnecessary to meet the powertrain targets. As the product further evolves, direct injection may be a consideration.”
The project must keep costs low in order to hit Elio’s base price of $6,800, which is unchanged from previous estimates. To date more than 47,000 buyers have placed a reservation for this economical vehicle. Deposits for the P5 range from $100 to $1,000; potential buyers can opt for a larger amount or agree to a non-refundable deposit for a spot closer to the front of the line once production begins.
Even with almost 50,000 reservations in place, a pre-production vehicle on display and the company’s name on a Shreveport-based factory, many remain skeptical that the Elio autocycle will make it into production.
Elio Motors needs an estimated $200 million, and it has yet to be approved for adding that funding from the Federal government’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.
In L.A., founder Paul Elio acknowledged that the P5’s actual price might go over $7,000. The new engine is also struggling to reach its fuel economy target of 84 mpg, with tests currently rating the P5 at 81.6 mpg.
Despite these challenges, Elio maintains its trike will be ready by the fourth quarter of next year.