Here’s why Elio didn’t just build new Geo Metro engines

Sections: Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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Elio Motors Engine Block Prototype Casting

Elio Motors showed photos of the initial prototype casting of its aluminum three-cylinder engine block. (Photo courtesy Elio Motors)

Fans of Elio Motors who have been following the Elio three-wheeler’s development over the last couple of years will recall that the initial powertrain talk centered around using as many off-the-shelf items as possible to help the car hit its price and efficiency targets of $6,800 and 84 MPG highway, respectively. It was hinted that Elio might just start building a new version of the Suzuki Swift/Geo Metro 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine from back in the ’90s.

Somewhere along the line, that plan changed. Elio contracted with powertrain systems developer IAV and made plans to ramp up production of a unique engine wholly its own. We’ve been seeing some engine design progress updates from Elio recently. Here’s the block, and here’s the head.

Many of you might have been wondering why the change of plans happened. An Elio Motors Tech Talk e-mail distributed Wednesday night, July 9 shed some light on that subject courtesy of IAV Powertrain System Project Development Director Kody Klindt. Using a couple of questions from Elio fans that have doubtless been on the minds of several Elio reservation holders who put money down on the as-yet unbuilt car back in those early days, Klindt directly addressed the issue:

It’s been communicated that current, off-the-shelf parts will be utilized to save money from R&D and be easier to maintain given the ease and availability of parts. For this reason, wasn’t the old GEO motor going to be used? Why stray from that concept to custom unknowns with no previous line of parts on market?
To produce a replica Geo motor would require all major components to be retooled. If you have to produce new tooling you might as well build them with known design improvements that enhance powertrain efficiency, performance, fuel economy and cost. Think of the Elio Motors engine as an evaluation of earlier proven technology.
How different is this than the Suzuki Swift / Geo Metro 3-cylinder engine of the early 90’s here in the US that got about 50 mpg highway?The Elio engine is a different engine than the Mule engines.  The original powertrain concept was to take the Suzuki Swift / Geo Metro engine and modify it with modern features.  Once early development started, it was noted this concept would not get the fuel economy targets.  A new engine was designed to be able to meet the fuel economy.

Makes sense to us. In effect, the Elio engine will be evolved from the basic concepts set forth by the old 993-cc Suzuki G10 engine that powered the Swift and Metro. Those engines were robust for a few reasons, not least of which was their non-interference valve design — so if you beat on them, revved them out at every opportunity, and neglected to change the timing belt when specified, they wouldn’t lunch their valves and pistons when the belt broke. That’s partly why I suspect you still see quite a few Geo Metros tooling around with that engine to this day, many of them with 200,000 to 300,000 miles and more dents than a Pops-A-Dent would know what to do with.

Also interesting to note: Elio will not make use of variable valve timing or direct fuel injection, but unlike the Suzuki G10 engine, the Elio will utilize a timing chain rather than a timing belt. Above all, the goal here appears to be simplicity where engine technology is concerned. With a cost target of only $6,800 for the whole car, Elio’s teammates at IAV certainly have their work cut out for them in designing the engine to hit its 84-MPG highway fuel economy target.

However, if they do hit that target with what could be considered “old” engine technology, imagine what they might be able to accomplish a few years down the road if Elio decided to upgrade to direct injection or variable valve timing! Perhaps if Elio goes into production and does well, then someday buyers will be able to spend a little extra for an engine with variable valve timing and direct injection that gets 100 MPG highway. To do that in a production vehicle with no hybrid system on-board would be phenomenal.

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  • Philip G Dooley Jr

    Exciting… I had thoughts for years of developing a “freeway runner” for trips to California from Washington State. I had imagined a three wheeler with a small engine spinning up a flywheel with a lot of gears. Elio looks more practical, but I’d like to see the engine upgrades; this is the 21st Century!

  • danwat1234

    Hopefully when years down the road when VVT comes to Elio, they’ll change over from regular OTTO cycle to an Atkinson cycle engine. More thermal efficiency.

    HCCI lean burn is about the best you can do with a piston engine but that requires a lot of high tech.
    Hopefully an plugin hybrid or electric version in the future at least but first they have to make it through the first production run in 2015.

  • mechanic wantirna south

    When designing the engines for the Metro, the main concern was fuel economy. With the changes the Metro undergoes the fuel mileage change significantly.

  • carlos valdez

    I live in San Diego, Ca. and I want to see this vehicle, when it comes in to the LA are.

  • Kerry Bruhart

    Do the math and you’ll find that the Elio on the highway is responsible for almost 4 times
    fewer emissions than the Tesla Model S. Per dollar spent, Elios reduce emissions 30 to 42 times more than a Model S. So why exactly are the Feds giving those rich folks buying a Model S $7500 to buy that energy hog rather than an Elio? Per dollar spent, Elio cars also reduce gasoline consumption 5 to 6 times more than a Model S. Subsidizing Model S vehicles is pure insanity if an Elio is available.

  • Ari Lea

    I find it extremely exciting. This is a general design that many have proposed, but fulfillment suffered from a chicken and egg problem. Because it didn’t exist, it couldn’t possibly exist. Yes, OK and the earth was flat too. There are plenty of prototypes that get 100mpg. Many for the same reasons that the Elio gets 84mg. If the Elio gets produced we may very well see it adopt some of those 100mpg innovations. But in an Elio layout, this likely translates to 120mpg.

  • Will Martin, CAI

    Why not an easy to balance 4 C We all know that on long trips 4 C is more restful. Also,
    the high torque of Direct Injection is required/ expected in markets today ! A new old
    design may not find as many buyers.

  • Brooke Beetler

    I am a user of the Yamaha Genesis snowmobile engine. My factory engine is 973cc and puts out 120 hp. It burns 3.5 gph. It seems to me that this would be an ideal engine for Elio. It seems sad to create a brand new engine that only puts out 55 hp when technology is already “old school” at twice that power. The Geo/Metro engine still had a low power to weight ratio. Why redesign the same thing putting out the almost same power?

  • Brooke Beetler

    P.S. My Yamaha Genesis 120 is a 2005 model year, and only at 85% throttle does it burn 3.5 gph making max hp @120. Cut it back to a “cruise speed” and the fuel consumption drops significantly. It’s a VERY efficient and reliable engine which I would love to hook up to Elio’s transmission. It’s always good to have a little more power than what you normally need, and 55 hp just seems to be on the shy side. Thank you.

  • Airbornebob

    I purchased two of the Chevrolet “sprint” cars in 1985. built and powered the susuki three cylinder engines. they we carbuerated engines that delivered upwards of 45+ mpg. and at times over 50mpg. What I noticed was that the carb physically cut off the gas to the engine on deaceleration. However along came the EPA and California Air Quality control personnel and as a result GM took over the production later and went to fuel injection—which did not get the mpg. then I purchased the turbo-charged version in 1987 with it’s factory inter-cooler and the horsepower went up to 75 hp. but the mpg fell off. Then GM went to the four cylinder version and everything went to crap. All in all I really enjoyed the cars and they were in-fact way ahead of their time.

  • DaveLindsay

    Throttle Body FE is more economical, thus the 84mpg US. This is a little over 100mpg the Imperial gallon

    • Alec Sevins

      My understanding is that GDI has generally been useful for more HP out of smaller engines, not so much improving fuel economy in the same sized engine. And GDI carbon buildup issues still need work.

  • scottinaz

    Sure, they could have designed and built a more powerful engine although they would have departed from the vision (an inexpensive vehicle that achieves 84mpg). Personally I’m looking forward to the vehicle as designed. Fantastic price, great mpg, reasonable performance, utilizing American made parts and produced in the USA.

  • Rick P

    3.5gph isn’t that impressive. Going 70 mph that would be 20 mpg.

  • RD350

    That was at 85% open throttle making 120hp. cruising 70 mph doesn’t require anywhere near that amount of hp.

    When I was in college I had a ’81 VW diesel rabbit. Got a real world 40+ mpg around town. 50+ on the highway and almost 60MPG cruising in the south where it is flat not in PA where i’m from. It was a 1.6 that put out 52HP. Total toad speed wise but lasted over 200,000 with no maintenance. Imagine what they can do now if they actually want’ed.

  • Hard Little Machine

    There are plenty of Honda Gold Wing engines more than big enough to power this thing. If it’s more or less a motorcycle why not use a motorcycle engine?

  • Alec Sevins

    Considering the valve carbon buildup in a number of GDI engines, I’m glad they aren’t going that route until it becomes more foolproof.

  • rogwild

    – Elio Motors is not a ‘New Company’, they’ve been around since 2008, and have a
    – – Just remember, back on (Sep 6, 2013); “Founder Paul Elio told Red
    River Radio that 25 prototypes are – under construction — in
    Detroit as the company enters into the product testing phase. “
    (Never happened, and they still have not started “construction”or
    “testing” )
    – – (Jan 11, 2014) When asked directly; “You will actually be delivering
    Production vehicles of this car, WHEN?” Paul Elio answered, “
    First Quarter of 2015!” (Never happened)
    – – BEWARE — Elio Motors has been taking ‘RESERVATIONS’ for 2 ½ years, but is
    still short $230 MILLION needed to reach ‘production’. – Since
    2008 they have ‘raised’ and -SPENT- $70 million!
    – In fact, their $100 – $1,000 reservations DO NOT guarantee that you will ever
    get a vehicle; Elio Motors says: “ we are under no obligation to
    supply you with a vehicle.“
    – And when asked, they refuse to provide which ‘reputable financial institution’
    is responsible for their “Refundable” escrow account.
    – Even with the “$19 million collected for “reservations”, they have NOT
    BUILT nor TESTED one complete Pre-Production Prototype with operable
    systems to ‘validate their claims’ of fuel economy, or safety!”
    …. since 2008.
    – In the past, If you asked any ‘difficult’ questions, or express
    ‘discontent’ on their FaceBook page, it was [DELETED], and you were
    “BLOCKED”'; or the post was [HIDDEN] from the general readership
    (seen only by the ‘poster’ and ‘Friends’)!
    – Interesting ‘concept'; but NO WAY they will be in production and on
    the road, by Mid-2016, as they ‘claim’. – Their ‘Production Date’
    has already ‘slipped’ from Jun/Jul 2014 → 1st Qtr 2015 → 3rd Qtr
    2015 → to First ½ 2016! → 4th Qtr 2016 → End of
    – They have NOT demonstrated their “84mpg” and do not guarantee their
    ‘selling price’ of $6,800. They have never ‘demonstrated “at least
    75mpg” to QUALIFY for the ATVM LOAN. They are ‘fleecing’ our
    citizens.! Please do your ‘Homework’! Paul Elio said that they will
    be producing 179,000 vehicles the FIRST year (only 45,000 reserved in
    2 ½ years); so no need to “Reserve” … if you are ‘interested’!
    Mr. Paul Elio, gets $250,000 per year…… and has PRODUCED and SOLD