Elio Motors talks safety. Again. Still.

Sections: Car Safety

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Elio Motors P4 prototype image

The latest prototype of the Elio Motors three-wheeled eponymous car. (Photo courtesy Elio Motors)

When you’re attempting to get people to buy a car in America, safety rates highly on many shoppers’ checklists. Maybe that’s why three-wheeled car maker Elio Motors sent out a second safety-related newsletter this week.

The newsletter said the upstart automaker plans to build its three-wheeled, two-passenger eponymous commuter car to standards well beyond those that would make it eligible to sell in the United States. Elio Motors said it has to comply with a number of safety standards, as outlined in the communique:

The Federal Government: The Federal Government has many regulations under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), which govern the automotive and motorcycle industry – from crashworthiness to tire pressure. The FMVSS are the base standards that all vehicles (or automobiles under 8800 lbs) must meet to be sold in the United States. These tests are conducted by the OEM, Elio Motors, at a qualified test lab to ensure the stated standards are met.

National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA): NHTSA created 5-Star Safety Ratings under its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), to provide consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover safety of new vehicles beyond what is required by Federal law. One star is the lowest rating; five stars is the highest. More stars equal safer cars.

Elio Motors has aligned with NHTSA’s philosophy of providing our consumers with the safest vehicle as a means to improve the likelihood they will walk away from an impact event with less injury. Therefore, in addition to including three airbags, a driver airbag for frontal protection and side curtain airbags for occupant protection in both a side impact and a rollover event as standard equipment, Elio Motors will follow the NCAP standards when evaluating the Elio.  Star ratings are determined based on conducting three tests: a frontal crash, a side impact crash and rollover resistance of the Elio.
Furthermore, when Elio Motors determines the aspects of their safety objectives, certain compliance factors must be demonstrated through a series of three steps.

The first of those steps, Elio said, is computer simulation of crash events. The simulations “provide digital predictions of the physical testing performance before real hardware is available,” according to the newsletter. The simulation results are used to determine if the car will meet FMVSS and NCAP safety requirements, among others, according to Elio.

“By the time the physical hardware is available, those involved will have a high level of confidence that the Elio will meet or exceed requirements,” the newsletter said.

Of course, physical crash testing will eventually follow. The first step toward that eventuality is testing of individual components, Elio Motors said. That means putting airbags through their paces and testing safety systems on a “sled,” or a platform meant to simulate the way the components will be mounted within the Elio once it is produced. This step gives Elio Motors a chance to alter things like airbag size or inflation time before final production.

Finally, when full-on crash testing takes place, it will take place in two parts, as explained by Elio:

Step Three: Actual Vehicle Crashing Testing
Elio Motors determines how many vehicles to put through the test, although 30-50 are tested on average. This phase is typically used to prove the “crashworthiness” and in most cases determine if the vehicle can be offered for sale.

As mentioned in a previous Tech Talk, approximately six months after the Elio reaches the market, NHTSA will purchase several of the vehicles unannounced and place through a series of crash tests to further evaluate the safety of our vehicle.

When all is said and done, each one of the suppliers that is involved with the safety components within the Elio will have conducted a series of tests. This will help to validate physical performance with digital performance which equals correlation.

As I outlined last time Elio Motors was talking safety tech, I’m most interested in seeing how the Elio fares in side crash testing. NHTSA and IIHS run two different major side crash tests — one simulating a T-bone collision, and the other simulating a crash where the car wraps itself around a pole or tree. The car reportedly is being designed with substantial front and rear crumple zones, but with the Elio being a narrow, tandem-seating three-wheel car, I can’t envision it allowing a lot of room for absorbing crash forces from the side. Time — and crash test results — will tell.

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  • Mike Elliott

    I have driven and been in on building trikes. I will buy one of these the instant they are available.

  • JohnCz

    I hope they offer some options like bringing back the exposed front wheels with aluminum rims (at least as an option) and I personally would feel better with a wider rear tire option. But all in all, I love the whole idea even if I just use it for local errands .. I will rarely ever take this on the highway.

  • sam mina

    My husband and I each reserved one. We are 72 and 62 years old and are so excited. George was a cop and retired from law enforcement and I respect how he checked the car and it’s safety features. Hurry up Elio!


  • Russell Churchill

    The true definition of this vehicle is a motorcycle. A vehicle that seats tandem and the driver sits over or straddles the drive train. if this is true the tests for this vehicle should use the same standards that it uses to test other Motorcycles. If so I am sure that this vehicle will exceed the safety results of any other motorcycle. This will be one of the few vehicles to present that meets the current government requirements for fuel efficiency. lets move forward and not try to stop this because it’s not a big auto maker or an import.

    • George Mina

      Right on Russell, I do agree 100%. There always will be skeptics coming up with issues and what ifs………….well, it is a great design, build in the USA, lets move on with it.

      • Lyndon Johnson

        I, too, look forward to the day the Elio is built, George. What I hope, for Elio Motors’ sake, is that the car’s narrow body does not result in a low side-impact crash test score that sabotages the car’s overall rating — especially considering Elio Motors has spent so long touting how the car is designed to earn a five-star overall crash test rating.

  • TomKY

    The idea for this car is one I have been longing to see for the fact I am a commuter and would greatly appreciate what they are trying to do with this. The mileage factor and the size along with the low price are those things I am interested in working out.

    However, I look at the car and see that the front wheels sticking out like they do could be a serious weakness in that they are so susceptible to damage in normal use. That along with the single back wheel would tend to make this vehicle easier to spin out in the right conditions on the highway.

    They don’t say much about it weight and it’s resistance to crosswinds on the highway and since it looks like some plans down through the years of having an airplane body on wheels for land use make me wonder just how easily would wind from trucks on the highway affect it’s safety in driving. These are just a couple of questions that need to be answered in the safety of this automobile for me.

    It is one thing to claim it but another thing entirely when it gets out into the public’s hands. Will wait until it is shown that it is stable on the highway before considering one. I don’t want to be blown around on the highway by either strong crosswinds or truck winds and have the car go into a slide especially with the single back wheel which does not provide much against that in this situation.

  • David

    they say 1200 pounds, I just wait to test drive one, i do commute 60 miles daily,80+ MPG will be nice

  • Paul

    I would be interested in one if it can be proven to operate safely in all but the worst weather conditions. I live in east central Mn where we are just finishing one of the worst winters I can remember in 50 years. With the icy sub zero cold for weeks on end to the heavy drifting snows that plugged my driveway 3 days in a row. I know it would not be good in the worst of this weather but as far as driving in average winter weather with strong winds. I drive over 60 miles 5-6 days/week and the mileage alone would almost pay for itself with in 3 years.

  • Trevor Black

    How wide is the car, front wheel to front wheel? I have a two car garage, I want to make sure the wheel distance in front is not wider than our current second car. Thanks

  • Jeff Markus

    crash test, crash test, is it safer than a MOTORCYCLE – YES – Get on with it..

    It is registered as a Motorcycle..

    so it should ONLY have to pass the MOTORCYCLE crash tests..
    Freakin Americans.. Don’t let your Gov RUIN another money saving IDEA..
    their going to tax EVERY MILE you drive – if you don’t start DOING SOMETHING about it..

  • Charles J. Jansky

    Looks very interesting. My wife thinks I am crazy, I am interested in being a one car family. We live in the country she won’t give up a car, maybe this is my answer?

  • Spyche Chaos

    Aaand it’s the last week of November, still no vehicles built for crash testing, the engine has been “on the dyno” since November 15 with no info from IAV or Elio on test results.

    These clowns couldn’t build an “autocycle” if they tried. I know this because I’ve been watching them try to build it since 2008 when the company was founded, and they were pimping the green Trikke that Paul Elio had that movie prop builder make for him while he was running his engineering firm into the ground “designing” a new seat for Toyota.

    Cut to 6 years later, and this “autocycle” that was supposedly “15 months from production” when Elio was unsuccessfully trying to talk Pontiac, Michigan out of their pension funds for operating capital is still nothing more than a $100,000 movie prop.

    They still haven’t built one vehicle on their own, still don’t have a production prototype built with the IAV engine, and they’re burning money renting an empty factory in Shreveport with their investor’s money. If you want an Elio, go see Technosports Creative in Michigan. They’re the only ones building them, and they run six figures.

  • R A

    “As mentioned in a previous Tech Talk, approximately six months after the Elio reaches the market, NHTSA will purchase several of the vehicles unannounced and place through a series of crash tests to further evaluate the safety of our vehicle.”

    Unfortunately, it will receive ZERO stars because Department of Transportation representative Kathryn Henry said that the Elio would not be tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as it is not technically a car.

    Elio KNOWS this…. yet they continue to claim that it will be tested by them.