Paul Elio Hits The Road With His 'Mule'

Gas prices are high, jobs are scarce and nothing seems to be made in the U.S.A. anymore. Do you know what America and Americans really need? The Elio, according to a promotional video for the three-wheeled vehicle that “puts the fun in functional.” It will be manufactured in a former General Motors plant in Shreveport, La., starting next year and is already the star of a foot-to-the-pedal traveling road show.

Early adopters will be able to drive away from the showroom without paying so much as a Buffalo Head nickel towards the $6,800 price … if they agree to shell out three times the going rate for gasoline whenever they fill ’er up. 

“Every time you buy gas, we charge you triple,” Elio Motors founder Paul Elio tells the Detroit Free Press’ Nathan Bomey in a story that also carries James R. Healey’s byline and is published in USA Today this morning. “You buy $10 gas, it’s a $30 charge. That $20 extra is your car payment because it’s paying down your loan.”



Since the Elio gets 49 mpg in the city (84 mpg on the highway), and the tank holds eight gallons, you might have a fairly decent term on your loan if you’re just tooling around town. The range, 672-miles, will get you from Manhattan to Detroit on a tank of petrol, the company claims.

As part of its old-style, F2Media promotional tour, Elio and marketing VP Chip Stempeck took reporters “on short spins around [a] parking lot” in Grand Rapids, Mich., in an 850-pound prototype late last month, attracting the wistful gazes of “several curious onlookers and car buffs,”’s Jim Harger writes.

The company is taking refundable and non-refundable deposits in $100, $250, $500 and $1,000 increments, according to Stempek. “The size of the deposit will determine where the buyer stands in line. The non-refundable ‘all-in’ deposit includes a 50% rebate upon delivery,” Harger reports. 

The four levels of reservations, each with its own benefits, are named: 

  • “I’m all in” ($100);
  • “I’m feeling it” ($250)
  • “I want it ($500) 
  • “Gotta have it” ($1000)

The prototype was also on display outside the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ball Park recently where Stempeck tells WCPO’s Anthony Mirones, “We’ll give you power windows and door locks, AM/FM stereo, we’ll give you A/C and heat standard and the Elio's safety system, which is three airbags, a full roll cage, anti-lock brakes and seat belts front and back.”

But in Shreveport, La., last week Elio shied away from the word “prototype” in describing its present manifestation.

“We’re calling it the ‘mule,’ not a prototype, because it’s not quite sophisticated enough to earn the title,” he said, according to the Shreveport Times’ Michael Doughty, although “the current model provides a good directional feel for what the final product will be.” Development on the advanced prototype should be completed within 90 days.

The vehicle features “front-to-back seating” -- meaning the second seat is behind the first. As a three-wheeled vehicle, it is technically a motorcycle but Elio says it will meet the stricter safety requirements required for automobiles. He is anticipating a five-star crash test rating, which, along with the low replacement cost, should keep insurance costs quite reasonable.

It will be “about 95% American-sourced in parts and labor,” according to a favorable video review (“very cool”) of “the mule” on Car News Cafe last month. Parts will be off the shelf at most auto supply shops, also making repairs cheap, senior editor Aaron Turpen points out. 

Oh, and top speed is 107 mph.

Reading about the origins of the invention gave us an idea for a new book project: Why Don’t You Something About It: Innovation Driven by Exasperation.

“In 2008, oil prices were going through the roof. It was just really making me angry that so much money was pouring out of this country to people who don’t even like us so much,” Elio tellsPopularMechanics’ David Aaron Moore.” I guess I was complaining about it too much to my wife, so she finally told me I should do something about it. I went to work the next day and decided to kick the project off. Working with 46 engineers, we had the actual concept finished by 2009.”

It is scheduled to go into production next June. Elio acknowledges that the roadside is littered with the wrecks of new vehicle start-ups but, as he tells Bomey, he thinks one totally uninnovative feature will be the engine of his vehicle’s success.

“There’s no new technology,” he says. “This is a gas, fuel-injected motor.”

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