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.