Paul Elio thinks big. So big that he is already saying that the company he leads – Elio Motors, which hasn't delivered Job One and hasn't even built a complete prototype of its 84 mile per gallon trike – could have a noticeable impact on the national petroleum use in the US. At the New York Auto Show this week, Elio explained how this would work to AutoblogGreen.

"After five years of sales, we can reduce total US gas consumption by nearly half a percent," he said. To work, this would require that Elio sells 1.2 million vehicles in the first 60 months. Since the company's still-evolving Shreveport, LA factory will someday be capable of building 250,000 vehicles a year, this is theoretically possible but, "it's admittedly a big number," Elio said. "There are only a handful of badges that will do that. The reason we can is that we're not competing against them. We're creating new segments."

And now we get to crux of the Elio. Paul compared the trike to the Sony Walkman, which people bought in droves when it was released even though they already had a home stereo. In car terms, the price of an Elio ($6,800) means you can also have a main car AND this new, quirky highly efficient three-wheeler. To encourage sales, Elio said the company has a plan to make the Elio trike extra affordable called "Let Your Gas Savings Make Your Payments." Under this plan, when you buy an Elio, you drive away with a special credit card in your pocket. You use this card every time you gas up and then Elio charges you triple what you paid at the pump. So, if your gas costs $10 (remember, this is an 84 mpg car, so you're not paying a lot at the pump), then your total cost to Elio will be $30. The extra $20 is applied to your loan payment. "As long as you drove into the dealership with something that was 27 mpg or less, your monthly fuel bill will go down," Elio said. "Three times 27 is 81 and we get 84. So, you got a brand-new vehicle under warranty that's fun to drive and you don't have a car payment and you're guaranteed to spend less on gas."

When drivers start to realize how cheap the Elio is to buy and operate, any worries about the car's looks will disappear, Elio said. He once again turned to the past to make his point. "If you had never seen the Volkswagen Bug before and you saw it for the first time, that's an ugly car," he said. "Objectively, that's an ugly car. People had an emotional experience with the product and fell in love with the styling, but it happened in that order. And so I said it doesn't matter what [the Elio] looks like."

Even without that experience, it seems people like the way the Elio looks, since there have been over 41,000 reservations placed. That means, at the very least, that 41,000 people have ponied up a $100 refundable deposit. That's the bare minimum, but there are eight tiers customers can get in on: $100, $250, $500 and $1,000, and each as a refundable or non-refundable deposit. As you might expect, the $1,000 non-refundable people are first in line for the trikes when they get produced, followed by the $500 non-refunds and so on down the line. Elio has raised around $17 million from the 41,000 people that have paid money thus far, and their reservations represent $280 million of product, Elio said. Elio has also submitted a request for $185 million under the new US Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, because sometimes big dreams need a shot in the arm.


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