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            3-wheelers.com e-interviews

            Elio Motors

            In October 2012, Arak Leatham interviewed Jerome Vassallo and Branden Carey at Elio Motors to discuss their new Elio 3-wheeler.  Arak has kindly provided the interview to  add to this web site.

            Elio Motors Interview with Jerome Vassallo and Branden Carey by Arak Leatham

            I'm not the press. I'm just a guy, a highly motivated guy, who wanted to see the Elio for about 5 years. On one fine day I heard about the Elio attending the Arizona Fair the next day on Wednesday 10/16/2013. So rather impulsively, I drove out at lunch to see it, and decided why not interview them too? Even though I'm not really the press, I got myself in to the area early 45 minutes before opening.

            The Elio team showed up about 30 minutes after. They didn't know I would be there of course, so you can say I 'bagged' them.  Before they showed up, somehow the door was already unlocked. And of course people were checking it out on their own. So I had lots of time to view the car. I also I sat in both seats. Maybe I shouldn't have. But enthusiasm often wins out. And it did in this case. I somehow thought, Elio had unlocked it then went for some coffee.  Inside, looks and feels a little bit tight, but I feel that's because I'm used to sociable seating. This car was tandem and that removes the passenger space from your right.
            In this tandem arrangement, I found I had 3 inches of space outside my shoulders in the drivers seat. So I call that at 28 inch interior space. I think it would take about 5 minutes to not feel tight anymore in the front, so I agree it's a good overall size. My 2007 Prius has only about one inch to the door, so this 3 inch spacing in the Elio is probably roomier than it needs to be.

            The interior of the demo car is definitely echo-y. All the parts inside are mock-up materials, as you would expect in a PRE-production-proof-of-concept prototype, not like the normal materials and textures you'll actually get. Yes, it looks the same from 5 ft away, but up close I could see it was a bit 'hardened'. So I think the real car would a lot quieter.

            Arak Leatham

            What engine is in the prototype?

            Jerome Vassallo

            As a suitable doner we used a 1990 Geo Metro. It was a reasonable analog for our proof of concept prototype.

            Arak Leatham

            In the production model, what is your top speed?

            Jerome Vassallo

            It will be over 100mph. The prototype donor engine I believe is between 50 and 70hp with much lower torque ratings than the production engine. The production engine will be 55hp 55lbft of torque. That's plenty adequate for this size and weight of vehicle. The projected weight is about 1200lbs. The prototype is a bit more than that.

            At that second two people, who just stopped dead in their tracks, jump in, "What is that?"...more questions quickly follow. JV is inundated for a few minutes. I use the moment to capture my notes, then he's back.

            Arak Leatham

            I understand the style will change slightly, improving the looks and aerodynamics.  When will you present the new style to the public?

            Jerome Vassallo

            We expect to present that at the Sun Dance Festival January 18th.(2014)

            Other Person #1:

             What does this cost? (A big sign is on the moving trailer 10 ft away that says $6,800. These are 18inch letters)

            Jerome Vassallo

            $6,800 (with a smile)

            Arak Leatham

            What is your aerodynamic coefficient of drag on the prototype?

            Jerome Vassallo

            We've got a .246cd with these open wheels. We definately will make a .250 or better in the production version.

            Arak Leatham

            I expect you will do better than that, since I heard your design team was working to improve on that. That is about as good as some efficency vehicle out there now. But I know your frontal area is a lot less.

            Jerome Vassallo

            Yes. (something about enclosing the front wheels could lower the cd even more)

            Arak Leatham

            With that new drive train, what do you think the acceleration will be, say 0-60?

            Jerome Vassallo

            10 sec. That's what we project.

            Arak Leatham

            I had a 1970's Ford Fiesta. It was 0-60 in 10.5 sec. I thought that was very 'peppy'. 10 sec will do just fine for me!  I've done my own research in three wheel car design, so I like the fact that the Elio has front wheel design. It's safer in my view for the center of gravity, and better handling.

            Jerome Vassallo

            Yes, that's important. We did want the vehicle to be safe in the many different climates it might operate. Wet conditions and snow are definitely better served.  But we had other reasons. The cost of the whole vehicle is important to us. It's more modular and compact for the drive train as a whole. Easier to manufacture and install at our level of volume. It also helps with the overall packaging. For example we don't have a drive line going to the rear. That helps with the overall structure and simplicity of the body.

            If you get interested in the talk about the Elio, you might consider look for us on Facebook. We have a lot enthusiastic people there.

            Arak Leatham

            Cool!

            Jerome Vassallo

            At the Sun Dance Festival starting Jan 10th 2014, we'll be presenting what the production vehicle will look...

            Just then, while I'm taking my note down, 3 people wonder up interjecting the expected questions.. "What is that?", "What do they cost?" "Where can you buy them?" I loose sight of JV for a few minutes. When I get back to him, he's part way though an answer..

            We purchased an unused GM plant that used to make Hummers and some other models.  We have a effort that is working to removing helmet requirements. (at that second I seize the moment)

            Arak Leatham

            How many states have helpment laws that affect Elio?

            Jerome Vassallo

            There are about 5. Arizona does NOT require a helmet. Currently only MO, MS, WV, NE, and NC require a helmet. We'll be working on each situation as the opportunity and need demands.

            Other Person #2

             Does your company have an insurance deal for this?

            Jerome Vassallo

            Not currently. However, this is a motorcycle and insurance is currently available that way.

            Arak Leatham

            I know Gieco has been known to provide insurance for reverse trikes and other three wheelers. I also believe Progressive has offered that since they hosted the Auto Motive XPrise. Aptera was a contestant and had set something up that way, I believe.

            Jerome Vassallo

            Yes, those are two that may provide insurance. We'll pay more attention to that as the production date gets closer.  You know, you should consider a recorder, you are working kind of hard writing notes. We are really used to voice recording.

            Arak Leatham

            So, true, this was just a quick grab at seeing the car today. I'd waited for 5 years since I first heard about it, so I was a bit impulsive to run out here at lunch.  When I sat in the Elio, I noticed I had about 3 inches from my shoulders to the door frame on both sides. This is more than I have in my 2007 Prius, which is about 1 inch.

            Jerome Vassallo

            Well, yes, the extra space represents more crush protection. This adds to the safety factor. You know, we found that the cars light weight, in addition to saving money in materials cost and gas mileage, this made the car less likely to crush in a side impact. The car would deflect easier. Combined with the airbags this added an extra safety factor for some situations.  Everything on the car is designed to crush in an impact, except for much of the passenger cage. That is very good for the occupants.

            Arak Leatham

            For the public, failures of things like the Aptera, Zap and some others to produce cars like this has made the public a bit skeptical of any success for new car products. But you guys look pretty serious to me.

            Jerome Vassallo

            Yes, we have kept thing simple than other attempts to build a new vehicle. We've also concentraited on areas others have failed in by neglect. Mr. Elio's experiences have taught him a few cridicle issues round the supply chain. So a lot of work has been done to have that correctly negociated and organized. Most other efforts have made that an afterthought.

            Arak Leatham

            So you know I belong to several three wheel discussion groups. We're quite interested in how this plays out.

            Jerome Vassallo

            For myself I don't like three wheelers just because they have 3 wheels. I like them for what they are capable of. (very serious look, at this point I feel the bRotherhood swell up inside) Just then 4 people give JV a salvo of questions, and I loose sight of him. I spot Brendan Carey and move closer to him. In a moment I pounce. I try a different track, I try to get his attention with a short story..

            Arak Leatham

            You know the intial reactions of people when they first see the Elio remind me of something from my past. In the late 70's at my university we entered a high-gas mileage vehicle in an gas efficiency race. The race was something like 1000 or 2000 miles with pit stops at neighborhood gas stations. The vehicle were required to be two seat vehicles. Ours was a full sized sociable seater. (side by side).  At the stations there were little signs saying, "High-Mileage Race, Refuel Here".  So one of our drivers is standing at our vehicle, helmet in hand, 20ft from the sign, and a bystander walks up to him , splitting her attention between the car and him. She has a grocery bag held by one arm and a kid by the other.  All she says was, "What kind of car is this? Where would I put my kid, where would I put groceries?"  Non pulsed, he returns, "It gets 110 miles per gallon."  She blinks twice, and says "Oh, I'll put my kids there and the groceries down there”.  So for the Elio, what has been the biggest turn around by people as they find out about the car?

            Branden Carey

            The 5 star crash rating we're expecting and we get from simulations. They seem to change quite a bit of thier thinking based on that.

            Arak Leatham

            How long have been involve in this project?

            Branden Carey

            I've known Paul (Elio) for 17 years. I knew him even while he was working for his Mechanical Engineering Degree. He's put a lot of good effort into this concept with it's set of attributes in mind. Safety and cost effectiveness are included. But having an effective design and supply chain are there as well.

            Other Person #3

             

            What about this back window? Will there be one in the production model?

            Branden Carey

            No currently. There is a great deal of cost savings in having only the driver's door and no back window.  It is possible we'll have an option package for a back window and a sun roof too. But that's just in consideration at the moment.

            Other Person #3

            Will there be an electric option?

            Branden Carey

            No, were keeping the investment low by staying with one drive system. A future model could provide us other opportunities.  IAV designed the new engine. Codey, who worked on this says we'll use E85 in this current engine. IAV actually does engines for major manufacturers. That VW small VW prototype for one. It got well over 100mpg as I remember.

            Arak Leatham

            The 1Litr VW?

            Branden Carey

            Yes, I think that was it.

            Arak Leatham

            That was 317mpg. I also know IAV has done work for BMW as well.

            Branden Carey

            IYes and other VW engines.  Back to your earlier question, being light is an asset, it allow lower force impact to the body. This is good, because people have seemed first concerned with safety. Them the second has been price

            Other Person #4

            What is the price? (15 ft from the sign.)

            Branden Carey

            $6,800 dollars. ( very earnest look on his face )

            Arak Leatham

            So I understand Elio Motors has worked on being different in thier manufacturing process.

            Branden Carey

            Carey: Yes, from Paul's point of view, having work directly in the auto industry and others, as he had, he's said, that some systems in industry are broken. The current system is too autocratic.

            Arak Leatham

            So you are more agile?

            Branden Carey

            Yes. We are more agile. For example we make it a point to meet every 4 or 5 weeks with ALL our suppliers. Heres an example of what Paul means; Paul says he once worked for Johnson Controls. In a product meeting at the company he offered this; That the company could save several million for our customer if this bolt were moved 6 inches. Frame Development says we could eliminate one clip at a cost of 5 dollars to us. Our customer might like that.  They just said no. Apparently, it wasn't in the best self interest as the managers saw it.

            Arak Leatham

            So the new plant was a old GM facility. Was hummer the primary product out of there?

            Branden Carey

            No there were a number of others too. We got a lot of the automation equipment in the deal as well. You know, we actually hired the plant manager that was there before. Currently we are building 25 pre-production prototypes there.

            Other Person #4

            What is that? How much is it? (8 ft from the sign)

            I ran out of time, and three more people were packing in to ask thier questions. So I desided to get out while the getting was good.

            Arak Leatham

            Thanks talking with me!

            Branden Carey

            No problem!
            Later I remembered something left unsaid and emailed for it..

            Arak Leatham

            Jerome, I missed a very key question. For those who make reservations, and opt for the credit card, what might the down payment be, that is to say, the up front investment? Are there going to other creative financing options?

            Jerome Vassallo

            The credit card is like a sign then drive purchase! Great meeting you. Hey, thanks for taking so much time visiting with us. Please come on back and visit us as we progress!

            For other e-interviews please click here

            Arak Leatham

            The Elio 3-wheeler


             

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