The Elio Car: Ultra fuel efficient vehicle at 84 MPG

Elio MotorsThe Elio

The brain child of Paul Elio, The Elio car is made in America, NOT a hybrid and achieves around 84 MPG with its 3 cylinder 60 horsepower motor.  The Elio also should retail at $6,800 when launched in 2015. The Elio is not a normal commuter car, it is essentially a Can-Am Spyder boxed in.  The car has 3 wheels, 2 in the front and one in the back, and has in line seating for 2.

As far as the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards definition goes, this is a motorcycle.  Elio motors has successfully lobbied most states to eliminate helmet laws and motorcycle endorsements from being required for drivers of the Elio. If this car was going to be pricey, then this would be crazy for anyone to buy looking to save money, think Tesla.  Sorry, buying a $70K car to save on gas doesn’t work. The Tesla is certainly a cool car and I love the concept, but it doesn’t make economic sense to own one at this point in time.  A $6,800 vehicle getting 84 MPG makes a lot of sense to buy.  You don’t have to pay more for better fuel economy.  What you lose is the ability to move 4 passengers and the ability to move more than a small amount of groceries.

Elio is marketing this vehicle as an addition to, not replacement of your current vehicle. I could see this working very well for DINKS or single people.  I could see getting one as a commuter vehicle, but I would still have to have 2 cars.  I would use this solely for driving to and from jobs that are long distance. At 84 MPG on the highway I could pay for this vehicle in about 2 years from mileage reimbursement.  The warranty being offered is only 36,000 mile/3 years, so that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Other Fuel Efficient Vehicles

If The Elio is a bit much of a transition from a normal vehicle, and lets face it for most people it probably will be, check out the following more traditional sized fuel efficient vehicles:

Ford Fiesta: The Fiesta offers an upgrade to the Ecoboost 3 Cylinder engine for $995 extra. The base model comes with a 4 cylinder engine and gets 38 MPG HWY.  Going with the Ecoboost delivers up to 45 MPG highway, but brings the total cost to $16,650.  The Ecoboost option is not offered on the lower S model, just on the SE, which costs $1,500 more.  Essentially to get the 45 MPG rating, you have to spend $2,500 more than getting the 38 MPG base model Fiesta.

Mitsubishi Mirage: The Mirage has several different configurations, but the most efficient is the manual 3 cylinder model getting 44 MPG highway; once again, not a hybrid. The Manual DE model retails at $12,995.  This may make sense for some people, and follows the line of having fuel efficient cheap vehicles.  It will be interesting to see how much these 3 cylinder models will cost when they are 5 – 10 years old.

Honda FCX Clarity: This is an electric fuel cell vehicle, charged by Hydrogen from special refueling stations.  It seats 5 and looks like a normal sedan. This car has a 134 HP 100 KW electric motor.  The car gets 60 miles per kilogram, and the tank is 3.92 kg, giving the car a range of around 240 miles. Next years model claims to achieve a range of over 300 miles, refuel in 5 minutes and an energy density increase of 60%.  Currently only residents in southern California (where the refueling stations are) can get these vehicles and they are only available for leases, at $600/mo.  This technology is obviously NOT a money saver at this time.

All of these vehicles still need to make financial sense to buy. I certainly don’t advocate buying a more expensive car just to save on gas. Look at my breakdown on fuel costs at different MPGs in the article American Car Expenses Are Insane.  This shows the diminishing returns from increased MPG and when it makes sense to buy a more efficient vehicle.

Diminishing Returns of Increased MPG

Going from 10 MPG to 20 MPG cuts your yearly fuel cost in half, lets say at 10 MPG it was $5,000.  Now it is $2,500.  A 10 MPG increase saved $2,500. Let’s say this is an upgrade from an old V8 truck to a V6 full size car.

Now to cut your cost in half again you would have to go from 20 MPG to 40 MPG, a 20 MPG increase.  This move saves $1,250. This move would be from the V6 car to a 4 cylinder compact, like a Honda Civic, this years model is rated at 39 MPG highway or a 3 cylinder compact like the Fiesta.

To cut your cost in half again you would have to increase your MPG from 40 MPG to 80 MPG. This move would have you trade in the Civic for the Elio, and it would save $625 a year over a 40 MPG vehicle.

To cut costs in half AGAIN you would have to go from the Elio to a motorized 49cc bicycle, which can get over 150 MPG (rider weight and terrain will be considerable variables).  This move would save about $312 a year moving from 80 MPG to 160 MPG. Now you have no room, except maybe a backpack for moving stuff, are limited to one passenger, are not protected from the elements and can’t ride on the highway.  This may work for some people, but as shown with the Elio, there are trade offs to be made for every increase in MPG.  The major advantage of these bikes, is they can be bought for around $500.

It might make sense for some people to own multiple vehicles for multiple scenarios and use whichever one can complete the mission in the most cost effective manner.  My family owns a mini-van and a compact car. I can see us adding an Elio or similar ultra high efficiency car at some point and a motorized bike too. (We currently do have pedal bikes as well).

The Math:

  • 12,500 miles / 10 MPG = 1,250 gallons * $4 per gallon = $5,000
  • 12,500 miles / 20 MPG = 625 gallons * $4 per gallon = $2,500
  • 12,500 miles / 40 MPG = 312.50 gallons * $4 per gallon = $1,250
  • 12,500 miles / 80 MPG = 156.25 gallons * $4 per gallon = $625
  • 12,500 miles / 160 MPG = 78.125 gallons * $4 per gallon = $312.50

Of course the number one way to save on vehicle expenses is to drive less.  What are your thoughts on fuel efficient vehicles, and especially on the Elio?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John is the author of the book For My Children's Children: A Practical Guide For Building Generational Wealth.

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