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Old 01-07-13, 10:18 AM   #16
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Since WWII, our automotive culture has made an 180° course correction. When once the American auto buyer wanted to show off with a huge, chrome-slathered barge, we have reached the point of seeing the automobile as a transportation appliance. Not that we don't want style, but there are now other concerns that guide our purchasing.

Back when the Beetle and the Renault Dauphine became popular at the end of the '50's, "gas mileage" was primarily a conversation topic. Well, with gas at 27˘/gal (even though about $2.75 in today's dollars) beating the magical 20 MPG was considered about as frugal as it got. If you could wring 30 or more out of your European econobox, you were considered a trendsetter. We thought those silly (or dumb) Europeans (and later, Japanese) didn't know how to build real cars like Impalas and Galaxies. What we didn't know was that they were responding to a whole different set of stimuli for their domestic markets.

While the US was being laced with state-of-the-art freeways and Interstates, European roads were basically laid out by Roman legions. They were narrow, many poorly paved, and often winding. In the UK, roads were either Roman or a least Norman in their origins - narrow lanes that ran between villages as they had for centuries. In America, we got to start our major roadbuilding boom without the constraints of meandering ancient rights-of-way. In most of the country, that meant if you wanted to go from here to there, you did so if not on a series of grid-lines that followed the meets and bounds of our earliest surveyors, you might well join location and destination with a straight line. We became a nation of freeways, straight and smooth ribbons of concrete from here to the horizon.

Our tax structure in the US had a great deal to do with the development of the American automobile. We funded road construction by means of state taxes levied on gasoline and registration fees. It was a fair tax because those who drove the most paid the most. New cars were taxed somewhat more than old beaters, but back when everyone was getting gas mileage in the teens, it was reasonably fair. Overseas, not only was gas taxed, but sales taxes, and in some places, use taxes, annual licensing taxes, ownership taxes (like property taxes) and others were routinely assessed - some based on the displacement of the engine. Today, Europeans tax automobiles like we tax alcohol and cigarettes. They see automobiles as "sin" against the environment, and set up punitive taxes to ensure that those who own a car with only slightly more horsepower than the original four-legged variety, pay for their thrills by coughing up some serious cash at registration time.

It boils down to the contrast between the left wing socialistic European governments that came out of WWII, vs. the traditional American free enterprise system. Europe sees government as the great nanny that cares for its people, taxing them heavily in order to provide "free" services. This not only tends to make citizens the slaves of the state, it reduces everyone to the lowest common denominator. In the US, if you can handle the down payment, banks are lining up to finance practically anything you want - so long as your payment book doesn't exceed your life expectancy. It's the American way of debt. Recently, we've been adopting the European economic model, excusing it as "green" or sustainable technology made available without concern for the traditional economic drivers of our society.

All that is to say that the automobile grew up differently in Europe (and later the Far East) than it did here at home. The operating environment was different, with broad, straight, billiard-table smooth roads, enormous distances between cities, low cost fuel and taxes, we could indulge in giant, inefficient public statements of wealth and power without concern for such niceties as economy or handling. Without the punitive taxes on displacement and fuel, we could develop the 427 CID engine to produce both 13-second quarter miles AND eight miles per gallon without much ownership penalty. In Europe or the UK, a 70's muscle car would be taxed out of existence for anyone who couldn't afford annual replacement. If you were going to be taxed on a Ferrari, you'd just as well drive one.

There, ultimate speed wasn't as important as handling. Small engines avoided the tax-man, and consumed proportionately less petrol. Smaller automotive footprints were easier to navigate in a world designed around a Roman chariot. So, the evolutionary process in Europe selected for smaller, lighter-weight, smaller engined cars that could be made entertaining by balancing weight, power and handling within the limits of the tax code and the road environment.

In America, we wanted to gobble the vast distances between cities on the Interstate - and a pillowy ride was desirable because we didn't NEED handling when traveling in a straight line or in bumper-to-bumper traffic. In the US, the evolutionary process was different, selecting for brute power (without tax or fuel restrictions), giant size (to impress the neighbors), and plenty of glitz to make you look like you were nearing lightspeed when sitting still (which you often did in rush-hour traffic on those super-smooth freeways). No, Americans and their cars grew up in a bubble - one where they didn't need to be practical.

In the sixties several manufacturers, noting the sales of the Beetle, decided to offer smaller lines of "economy" cars . . . but they weren't terribly economical. What the Big 3 did was essentially scale down the full-size car, drop a straight-6 engine into it rather than a hulking V8, and try to sell it on practicality for a couple thousand dollars less than their full-size lines. The really didn't bother to go back to a clean sheet of paper for their designs (Corvair being the notable exception here), but only shrank the package. Sure they were a little less expensive to buy and operate, but they never touched the frugality of the Beetle that had been their target all along. Product specialists over in Marketing said that Americans wouldn't buy small cars with 50 hp engines - despite the fact that VW was crushing the small car market with just that product. No, Americans wanted BIG cars - so our "economy" cars had to at least LOOK big.

And that's how we wound up with a Boss 429 Mustang and the Hemi 'Cuda - a uniquely American version of a "small" car. Unbeatable in stock classes at the drag strip, but totally useless on the road. We had taken an economy car and pumped it full of cubic inches that only rising gas and insurance costs could end. Today we see the "economy" car of the sixties as an evolutionary dead end - it wasn't that the Europeans were too dumb to make a proper car, or that our engineers were too dumb to make a smaller, sporty car that was reliable . . . both engineering teams were responding to entirely different roads, tax structures, and buyers. Fiat and Renault pulled out of the US market along with other European makers because at 2-3 hours of sustained 60-70 mph highway speeds, their engines designed for tiddling down country lanes would upchuck their internals in the middle of the road, gaining a reputation for reliability often assigned to fine crystal. Our cars wouldn't sell in Europe because they have been simply too large, too thirsty, and too softly sprung to take to the roads first surveyed two millennia ago. American cars have simply been impractical and unaffordable in Europe.

In the past ten years, particularly the past five, that gap has been closing. European roads are getting much better, although fuel taxes are higher than ever. We're beginning to experience some of that here - well the tax and fuel part anyway. We've trimmed the glitz from our cars, pared the weight a bit, built more efficient engines and transmissions . . . and where did the engineering come from? Europe - where they've been doing just that for the past 60 years. What about quality? Let's face it, Japan and Europe built absolute junk following the war. They were busily building "affordable" cars for their huge domestic market - not for us. No wonder oil-stained Renaults and Fiats littered our roadsides, the victims of massive automotive seppuku. European cars were never designed for our driving environment, nor were ours for theirs. But roads, tax structures, and traffic are beginning to converge all over the world. Where once it simply wasn't possible to build a "world car", there are emerging opportunities for some "crossover" models worldwide.

Will THIS be your new commuter?

Click the image to open in full size.

Elio Motors just bought GM's assembly plant near Shreveport, LA to produce this car probably by summer of 2014 - asking price: $6,800. It's a 2-seater trike with AC, power windows and locks standard - and a 3/36K warranty. With a little ground clearance, it could be an answer to that "world" car concept. No word yet on the powerplant or drive train - obviously a motorcycle's.

Before you laugh, $6,800 is a pretty powerful incentive. You could outfit the whole family in cars for less than a tiny Kia.
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Old 01-07-13, 10:46 AM   #17
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All that is to say that the automobile grew up differently in Europe (and later the Far East) than it did here at home. The operating environment was different, with broad, straight, billiard-table smooth roads, enormous distances between cities, low cost fuel and taxes,

Smooth roads may be the norm in the Deep South where you are (warm climate and lack of salt/freezing-and-thawing), but just drive in or around any Northeastern region or on the Great Lakes states, and you will see that it is definitely not the case. Michigan roads, especially, have a reputation for damaging wheels/tires/suspensions....I've seen some almost as bad in Northern Ohio near Lake Erie.
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Old 01-08-13, 12:18 PM   #18
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Oh, I agree, between the freeze-thaw cycles and road salt, roads in the upper Midwest and Northeast are often terrible. West of the Mississippi, I've found roads to be exceptionally good. Don't know if it's better construction, less graft at the state level, better maintenance, or as you indicate, warmer winters. In the West, the road trip comes into its own as a hobby.

Even secondary roads are exceptionally good - largely because most US routes and State highways were designed as primary roads, but with the construction of our Interstate highways, are seldom traveled by heavy trucks, the bane of both asphalt and concrete. That's why I support the old two-lane American roads; little traffic, smooth, well-marked roads, and actual scenery - something that's missing droning along on the cruise control out on the super-slab. The American car, as modified by its "foreign" content is just about ideal for Two-lane America.

With reasonable fuel economy (and preplanned fuel and rest stops), a smooth, responsive ride, and a fair turn of speed where applicable, our backroads provide more than a way to get from A to B, they offer a good deal of fun along the way. Hurtling toward the horizon through a desolate landscape down four or six lanes of featureless concrete isn't fun. A change in focus is necessary, particularly with the post-millennial American car. With sufficient size to be comfortable, offering ride control and smoothness from Detroit, but borrowing handling and economy from its European and Japanese cousins, many of our domestic cars can now provide a suitable mount for a week of casual and spontaneous road-tripping.

Of course I have to give credit to the GPS that I first discovered 15 years ago as a laptop program. It frees you to explore the two-lane blacktop without the threat of ending up somewhere you can't get back from. These large-scale computer tools also let you investigate local features, alternate routes, call ahead for reservations, as needed, and even incorporate local wiki notes on what's passing by your windows. For safety, this really requires a navigator*, fluent in the program's features and language, but with a good navigator to support you, it's like crossing the country with a wealth of local knowledge at your fingertips.

Driving through Western Idaho, I learned that sugar beets are second only to potatoes as a local cash crop . . . a fact supported by the mysterious mountains of beets being hauled to the mills along my route and contributing to the "barnyardy" aroma wafting in through the vents. I got a nice presentation on the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War on the way to Fredericksburg, and a tour of the D-Day Museum while navigating the streets of New Orleans. I've found bed and breakfasts in out-of-the-way places, excellent country cafes where the chicken-fried steak approaches a religion, music and art festivals - and a good deal of local culture that would otherwise be a blur outside my window. Try that with your OEM nav or pocket navigator as you blast along the slab.

That's often the problem with road-tripping America - we often take advantage of the direct routes in the name of getting to our destination quickly. With the technology available today, your destination doesn't have to be your goal. You can do your route-planning on the fly and make your own fun along the way. You don't need to be a slave to the interstate routes through bald and featureless landscapes, you can see the country, experience our rich and diverse cultures, and discover what awaits you exploring Two-lane America. Whether it's a day trip or a full-on driving vacation, it's the only way to go, and our American cars, long derided as "Detroit Iron", are gaining a lot of well-deserved respect - a good deal of it as a result of their global mentors. Say what you will about German and Japanese rides, there are NOW some things that Americans do very well.

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Old 01-08-13, 12:41 PM   #19
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Incidentally, VW enjoyed a great reputation for the reliability of the old Bug. It wasn't necessarily superior European craftsmanship that made it as reliable as an anvil, but a wise "flaw" designed in by Dr. Porsche himself. I drove a new VW delivery van on a job during my junior year in high school - our vans came with an owner's manual that actually invited drivers to keep the gas pedal down rather than upshift. My buddy and I who shared the van during the week (with our freshly-minted driver's licenses) took the manual at its word and consistently turned in better mileage figures than our superiors who ran it up to about 2200 and shifted.

Click the image to open in full size.

It turns out that one great reason for the reliability of that old flat-four was the intake manifolds were tiny for the displacement of the cylinders they fed. Out on the road, it was the equivalent of a restrictor plate, effectively a governor limiting revs. No wonder they didn't have tachometers, Americans might scare themselves into shifting early. Floorboarded in third was consistently 35 mph - just about perfect for suburban driving. Oh, and that ventilation system worked well - you really didn't need AC, just open the windshield. Of course in winter, having your tiny heat source located in the wayback made it just about useless. No wonder Hitler's army survived the Russian winter. They'd honed their Teutonic constitutions driving their Kubelwagen for several years.

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Old 01-08-13, 04:31 PM   #20
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Incidentally, VW enjoyed a great reputation for the reliability of the old Bug. It wasn't necessarily superior European craftsmanship that made it as reliable as an anvil, but a wise "flaw" designed in by Dr. Porsche himself. I drove a new VW delivery van on a job during my junior year in high school - our vans came with an owner's manual that actually invited drivers to keep the gas pedal down rather than upshift. My buddy and I who shared the van during the week (with our freshly-minted driver's licenses) took the manual at its word and consistently turned in better mileage figures than our superiors who ran it up to about 2200 and shifted.


It turns out that one great reason for the reliability of that old flat-four was the intake manifolds were tiny for the displacement of the cylinders they fed. Out on the road, it was the equivalent of a restrictor plate, effectively a governor limiting revs. No wonder they didn't have tachometers, Americans might scare themselves into shifting early. Floorboarded in third was consistently 35 mph - just about perfect for suburban driving. Oh, and that ventilation system worked well - you really didn't need AC, just open the windshield. Of course in winter, having your tiny heat source located in the wayback made it just about useless. No wonder Hitler's army survived the Russian winter. They'd honed their Teutonic constitutions driving their Kubelwagen for several years.
It's hard to fault the excellent workmanship on older VWs (that was one reason for their popularity in the 50s and 60s, and the fact that they were arguably the first import to cut significantly into Detroit's sales). And, in general, that did translate into good reliability, though the small high-revving air-cooled flat-fours ran under a lot if stress and often needed valve-jobs and/or other major engine work by about 50-60K miles.


And you're not kidding about that useless cabin-heater, which not only took a hundred miles of winter-driving to get any significant heat out of it but, because it was heated by the exhaust-shroud, sometimes allowed CO fumes to mix with it if the exhaust system wasn't in 100% perfect condition. The rear swing-axle models also had some of the same nasty handling-gremlins as the similiarly-designed early Corvairs. (Ralph Nader, of course, never saw fit to point that out)
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Old 02-28-14, 02:25 PM   #21
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Well, rather surprisingly, the Elio looks like it's going into production this summer, to be available at branded dealers across the US. OK, it's a three wheeler, two-passenger tandem trike, but it boasts a lot of well proven technology and components. The three-cylinder 55 hp, 900 cc engine is a FI, SOHC, water-cooled powerplant that delivers 49 mpg city and 84 mpg out on the highway. Styling-wise it's unconventional without being weird. It looks a bit like a mid-90's Civic that's had a couple of feet taken out of its width and it's front wheels mounted outboard. The tandem seating makes for a narrow vehicle that's really aerodynamic, contributing to both performance and fuel economy.


Thanks to it's roll-cage based underpinnings and large crush zones, it shouldn't be a scary thing to drive on the Interstate, either. While not exactly a canyon-carver, the little vehicle handles surprisingly well, with 15" tires anchored by a disc brake on each of the three corners. It can exceed 100 mph (given a long-enough head start) and can hit 60 mph in "under" 9.6 - which isn't exactly sporting territory, about the accelerative equal of a large SUV; but try that in any other gas-sipper.

Click the image to open in full size.

The Elio is small, but a good deal larger than it first appears. An 8-gallon tank will take you about 650 highway miles with a little reserve. Considering that's done on regular gas, that's pretty economical. Speaking of economy, here's the real stunner:

The Elio will sell for $6,800.

That includes power windows, lock (it only has one door), cloth seating, an AM/FM radio, heating and air conditioning. Altogether, it's a rather nice looking interior, even in standard trim. Options include an automatic transmission, a stereo upgrade, leather seats, a sunroof, and a choice of wraps in case you're not moved by the selection of colors.

Click the image to open in full size.

What's most intriguing about the Elio is its manufacturing plan. To be built in a former GM plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, the company will lease space in its factory for all of it's major subsystems developers. That means engines, and drivetrains will be built on-site, as well as suspensions, brakes, dash panels, wiring harnesses frame and body panels too, will be built in-house by subcontractors. The advantage of this process reaches Just-In-Time delivery to the assembly floor, but JIT manufacturing, as components come off separate lines - ready for final assembly. With no inventory to support, costs can be cut to the bone.

Another advantage of this is that most of the service parts are readily available at your local parts house, because, with the factory supplying deep level components, major repairs should be cheap as well. This keeps insurance costs down, because your premiums are based on the cost to repair your vehicle. Composite body panels won't ding or dent, and can simply be replaced as required.

One of the goals of the company is to create American jobs by using 95% American-made parts. You don't get much more home-grown than that. The Shreveport factory will create and host about 1500 new jobs for the area - and following one of Henry Ford's principles, it will build and sell cars that its employees can actually afford.

Here's an excellent alternative to an electric urban runabout - a car (actually licensed as a motorcycle, hence the three wheels) that is cheap to operate, but can still get on the freeway, even hit the interstate for hundreds of miles before refueling. How else can you drive all day with a passenger and a couple of duffel bags for $50, including lunch? And it looks like it would be a lot of fun, too!

Finally, to make the car affordable to anyone with a gas card, the company is making financing arrangements with credit card companies that would charge you $150 for every $50 worth of gas you buy - that extra $100 is your car payment that goes directly to Elio, and is directly dependent on your use of the vehicle. If you drive, say 1200 miles a month, your car note will be roughly $93. Just about anyone can afford that, because the gas savings alone, not to mention the three-year warranty on the car will make it a lot cheaper and more reliable to drive than your old beater. Just don't plan on taking more than one passenger with you.

http://www.eliomotors.com/?gclid=CMb...FUpk7AodZiMA6A
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Old 02-28-14, 03:06 PM   #22
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Reminds me of a first gen Honda Insight backwards
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Old 02-28-14, 07:40 PM   #23
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Yeah, there's a lot of Honda styling in there. Note the steering wheel and instrument binnacle.

I understand the next-gen Elios will incorporate 4-wheel models. Long range plans call for a couple of new models and even exports to Europe. That'll be a nice change for the old balance of trade . . .

Click the image to open in full size.
Elio

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Old 02-28-14, 08:04 PM   #24
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The tandem seating makes for a narrow vehicle that's really aerodynamic,

.......perhaps the great-grandson of the old Messerschmitt KR200 (which, Bob, I'm sure you'll remember)

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Old 02-28-14, 08:58 PM   #25
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In America, we wanted to gobble the vast distances between cities on the Interstate - and a pillowy ride was desirable because we didn't NEED handling when traveling in a straight line or in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
That type of ride comfort is still desired by more car-buyers than you might think. But the auto companies, for the most part, are ignoring them, primarily because the government, auto press, and "enthusiasts" are basically dictating auto design these days....and it shows.
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Old 03-01-14, 07:11 AM   #26
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That type of ride comfort is still desired by more car-buyers than you might think. But the auto companies, for the most part, are ignoring them, primarily because the government, auto press, and "enthusiasts" are basically dictating auto design these days....and it shows.
I think you are giving the government, press and enthusiasts too much credit, or blame. For the most part auto makers produce and push what's selling. As tastes change they change. Maybe the pendulum will swing the other way again eventually. The only thing constant is change.
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Old 03-02-14, 09:50 PM   #27
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Japan may be finding itself a good bit behind the value/$ curve in coming years. Their wage scales have risen thanks to growing consumerism, and NO Japanese works for that "bowl of rice" the chauvinists were talking about in the '70's, Korea has forced the issue, still holding the edge on manufacturing cost, but the dark horse in this race is (drum roll, please) the USA. It's not so much that we've become "best price" manufacturers, but that everyone else's wages have risen to near-parity with ours. Whatever we've learned about good engineering and efficiency, we've discovered, applies directly to the bottom line. Cost accountants have lost their stranglehold on engineering and manufacturing. Click the image to open in full size.

We're finding that outsourcing to low-cost overseas manufacturers is destroying quality. A local Porsche shop discovered that 2 out of 3 Bosch replacement starters were defective right out of the box. With that component buried in the engine, it was an expensive matter to install a new starter only to find out it's dead. Now they bench-test every one on arrival. When they tracked the problem down, even Porsche was having troubles in Stuttgart. It seems Bosch had outsourced starters and alternators to China, and they are experiencing monumental QC problems. It's not just Porsche, one carmaker after another is pulling back those contracts, returning manufacture to the US or Europe. There is some cost-cutting you just can't afford.

At the same time, we've moved a great deal of our manufacturing out of the Rust Belt to the South and Southwest, where "right to work" states prevail. We've also taken a new look at automation, and believe it or not, have actually designed cars and other products to be less costly to manufacture. We've learned to manage inventories, deliveries, and listen to our vendors when designing components. The upshot of all this is that we're not only getting better at what we do, but we're also getting competitive on price.

It's rather odd that we are giving credit to our vendors for their expertise when it comes to sub-assemblies like switches, wiring harnesses, bearings, and brakes. It only stands to reason that the people who design and build components should be the experts on their application and performance, rather than the final assembler who can never have the detailed information in a variety of applications, assuming full knowledge of everything.

Finally, as a nation, we've experienced a culture shift. Rather than being suckered in by huge cars slathered in chrome, we've been educated by both the EU and Asian automakers over the past thirty years. We expect a better, more refined product and are willing to accept smaller, less garish packaging. Is it possible Americans have learned to choose quality over quantity? Well, market forces have driven American manufacturers to build far superior products to what they did only ten years ago. Click the image to open in full size.
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Old 03-03-14, 09:44 AM   #28
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.......perhaps the great-grandson of the old Messerschmitt KR200 (which, Bob, I'm sure you'll remember)

Click the image to open in full size.
Oh yes, I remember when I was just entering my teens a friend's father had one of these he brought back from his Army tour in Germany sometime in the mid-fifties. He was the most popular Dad in the neighborhood, giving rides to kids seemed to be his excuse for driving the thing around several blocks. It was a blast and we kids couldn't get enough, and I think all of us pestered our Dads for one. Of course when you're twelve or so, you had to set your sights on something you could drive as a motorcycle when you reached the ripe old age of 14. Waiting until you were 16 was near impossible for car-crazy kids.

I hadn't thought about this little motorcycle/car in years, but I had to go look it up. One of the features I seemed to remember was that it had no reverse gear. Yeah, my memory was correct. When he pulled in the driveway, it was a surprisingly simple matter to back out. The two-stroke Sachs engine would run in either direction, so if you started it "backwards", you had four speeds in "reverse" to work with.

Of course killing it and restarting it in the opposite direction was not to be undertaken lightly once having backed into a busy street. But it was simple and effective.
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Old 03-03-14, 10:14 AM   #29
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Talking with a couple of guys who have been following the Elio's progress for the past years (one of whom already has a deposit down and gets their newsletter), it seems the powertrain has been upgraded to a 4cyl, 70 hp unit and both the automatic and manual transmissons return the same impressive fuel efficiency. At 1200 lbs wet, plus driver and passenger, if you put a pencil to the power/weight numbers, it gets rather sportive. My old '72 Opel that whipped all comers in the late lamented SCCA Showroom Stock class, weighed 2200 lbs with a 90hp engine. It looks like you won't be embarrassed trying to keep up with traffic in the planned Elio.

It looks like IAV, a German-based engineering services company deeply involved in engine design and manufacture for most of the carmakers you can think of has come on board to not only manufacture engines and powertrains for the company, but provide a good deal of start-up capital for the company's new plant. The GM plant in Shreveport isn't some old abandoned warehouse, but the factory that was building the Hummer up until production ceased a couple of years ago. Tooling the plant, especially for its suppliers (major vendors will lease space in the plant to build major components), and training up a core staff to begin production this fall will be difficult. The announced availability of the yet-to-be-named Elio Motors product is now January 2015.

It will take at least that long to manufacture the first hundred-plus units and get them into the 50 or so initially-planned showrooms around the nation for a January roll-out. By that time, the manufacturing and assembly lines should be coming up to speed. It will take probably another year to reach full production - at which time Elio Motors is looking into the possibility of exporting the vehicle.

If it happens, this would be a remarkable achievement for the industry, actually exporting the same car overseas that will be selling here. No concerns about right or left hand drive, obviously, and with an engine designed for regular UL, and all US safety and environmental specs met - even for an automobile, it could be imported as a trike or a car, depending on tax structures overseas. Sourcing replacement parts should be no problem because the manufacturer claims only the body panels and frame are unique to their product, all else is available off-the-shelf. I have a couple of doubts about things like that narrow windshield and some of the rear suspension, but I suppose it's possible.

Maybe one of the best cars for the overseas market in the 21 Century will be American.
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Last edited by Lil4X; 03-03-14 at 10:20 AM..
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Old 03-03-14, 10:26 AM   #30
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I am all over that Elio! Looks cool, and will be great for my 50 mile one-way commute!
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