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Elio Motors safety discussed in e-mail from company

Sections: Car Safety

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Sour Apple Elio Motors P4 prototype press image

(Photo courtesy Elio Motors)

Everyone who sees the three-wheeled car wonders what the Elio Motors safety record will look like once the car is in production. The upstart automaker discussed exactly that topic in a recent e-mail.

The e-mail said the unconventional, 84 MPG, $6,800 tandem two-seat commuter machine is expected to earn a five-star crash test rating from NHTSA. That’s not news. What is news is the level of detail shared about Elio Motors safety planning:

knowing that a vehicle is only as safe as scientifically demonstrated during collision testing, Elio Motors is going to follow a similar process to other OEM’s. One where tests are conducted approximately six months after the vehicle reaches the market. (click on pictures to be linked to Elio – The Science of Safety video)

In such a process, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will around this time-frame purchase a vehicle from “the lot” unannounced to ensure that it is representative of the Elio production vehicle and will then place it through a series of crash tests.  Such tests serve as a means to provide consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover safety of a new vehicle beyond what is required by statute.

Prior to these tests being completed by NHTSA, the Elio will be deemed “safe” well in advance to the results being known and before the vehicle even hits the streets. This is because Elio Motors will conduct the same engineering simulations and crash tests by a third party test facility prior to the official testing.

Additionally, the Elio Motors supplier partner teams remain focused on achieving the 5-Star Safety Rating objective by:

  • Selecting the Elio Motors safety supplier partner that manufactures the parts utilized in the majority of vehicle makers today. And, who also just so happens to have engineered the precision of safety products to the millisecond for over 70 years.
  • Incorporating an Elio Safety Management System of vehicle dynamics, seat belts, three airbags, reinforced high strength steel roll cage with side intrusion beams, ABS, stability control and crush zones for the front and back.

Together, through each engineering decision and crash test Elio Motors and team engages in, we will continue to strive towards the highest standards of excellence in safety.

One has to wonder how mass will factor into the safety equation. The Elio stands to be just about the smallest car to hit our streets since the Smart ForTwo. I shudder to think what an Elio-vs-half-ton truck crash would look like. I’m also very curious how the Elio, which is about half the width of a normal car because of its tandem seating arrangement, will fare in side-impact crash testing.

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  • Bruce Pick

    Elio has long crush zones at front and rear. Overall length is 160.5″. That information from http://www.eliomotors.com, section: Why Elio, under Specs.

    Overall Length: 160.5″
    Overall Height: 54.2″

    Front Wheel Track: 66.8″
    (center rim to center rim)

    Wheelbase: 110″

    • Lyndon Johnson

      I’m aware of the crush zones, and would fully expect the Elio to perform well enough in standard frontal crash tests.

      The front wheel track and the width of the cabin are two different specs entirely, however. The Elio is set up like an open-wheel race car. As such, the wheel track is substantially wider than the cabin itself. A side-impact crash test will be interesting to see for that reason.

      Not trying to poo-poo on the Elio — I hope the company succeeds in changing the way we think about commuter cars — just saying I’ll be watching the official government crash test results with interest when they happen.

  • KEN

    I sat in the car before I put my money down and the cabin is very spacious. I come in at 260 lbs and didn’t have a hint of tightness. My body to door panel was no tighter then it is in the Honda Passport I now drive.

    • Lyndon Johnson

      It’s not so much the body-to-door-panel gap on the impact side that I think may ultimately hurt the Elio’s side impact rating. Rather, it’s the gap on the opposite side from the impact. I’ve been watching a lot of IIHS and NHTSA crash test videos lately, and the movement of the crash test dummy is almost always further toward the non-impact side. The side curtain airbags Elio says will be equipped should help, but I remain interested in seeing how it pans out in crash testing.

  • Dennis

    Thanks for the article, Lyndon.
    I hope the car succeeds. Management of the safety perception will be critical if it is successful. The first time someone is killed in one, it will not matter how many safety features the care has or that the person would have almost certainly also been killed in a mid-sized sedan, the blame will fall squarely on the Elio. Whatever is “new” is always the first thing to be blamed when something bad happens.
    Elio Motors may choose to be proactive with accidents and injuries (actual, they are already proactive with the engineering and testing). There will almost certainly be non-fatal accidents prior to fatal. Testimonies about how the safety features protected the passengers and the customer purchasing a new Elio may go a long way. Safety decisions are more emotion and perception based than facts and data based. Elio has a cadre of facts and data people working for them, they need to get experts on how to manage the emotion and perception.

    • Lyndon Johnson

      Thanks for reading and for the insightful comment, Dennis. Bookmark us!

  • Randi

    Just a thought, since the Elio will only have one rear wheel, during a side impact, wouldn’t the car tend to “Spin around” limiting the impact force? Compared this to a typical car that would offer more resistance to a side impact by having four wheels. I don’t know.

    • Lyndon Johnson

      I’m no physicist, but I would think the three-wheel layout might actually make it more susceptible to rolling over in some angled side impacts. Especially if, as you say, the single wheel in the rear makes it more likely to spin (rotate) in those collisions. I’ll defer any further speculation to any commenters who might have much more knowledge than I do in this field.

  • Rob smith

    One thing I noticed right off the bat is that because of the layout and design of it’s front wheels, the elio should have better then average results in regards to front side/ mid side collisions, the most common side impacts. Unlike a standard car where the wheels are within the car frame, the elio wheels are outside it. So in theory if it gets hit on either side from the nose to the drivers door, that wheel should act as a very effective shield and buffer damage to the passenger compartment. Even if it was T-Boned in the center of the car if the impacting vehicles bumper makes contact with the wheel it would divert some impact force into the axels and engine compartment. And as for a roll over possability, The elio is a tripod which is as a shape, actually highly resistant to roll over, especially with the front wheels outside of the frame. And with the back single wheel inside the frame any rear/ front side impact will cause the car to pivot dispersing some of the force, where as a four wheel can’t pivot and would roll over. I’d imagine this car would fare well as it’s small torpedo like design would transfer force throughout the frame fairly equally.