SADOW: Elio Motors Is A Low-Percentage Bet

The good news is, state taxpayers won’t be on the hook for much on this one. The bad news is, whether it will come to anything is very much an open question and if it doesn’t Caddo Parish taxpayers may be out a sizable chunk of change.

The Elio Motors hybrid car/motorcycle is coming to the shuttered former General Motors plant in southwest Shreveport. The three-wheeled vehicle is like an enclosed motorcycle, two seats one right behind the other with basic operating conveniences. It looks odd, but its founder and its private sector venture capitalist, the latter actually providing the majority of resources to purchase the old facility and also opening up the building to other tenants, hope it will succeed on gas mileage figures at least a third higher than any other current automobile and a price half of any of them.

The state’s contribution comes from incentive and tax abatement programs that may or may not actually return more money to the state than is forgone, but at least won’t be triggered until there is actual production and targets to be reached. Caddo Parish’s is in the form of backing $1 million of $10 million worth of industrial development bonds, with the potential to lose it all if the enterprise goes belly-up and saddled with owning an idle property.

Departures from the typical four-wheeled, mainly gasoline-powered internal combustion engine for automobiles have not fared well. Louisiana lived through the whole V-Vehicle/Next Autoworks fiasco in the past four years that resulted in the state having to claw back money it gave up front, and now Delaware stands to lose tens of millions on the failing Fisker electric vehicle venture that it has sunk in and/or won’t be able to claw back. Unanswered questions abound about the real marketability of the Elio concept car.

Will dudes really go for just a two-seater, one behind the other, that does not have a motorcycle’s attraction of the wind whipping through your hair under your “brains bucket” as you whip through the streets/country with a hot chick holding onto your waist (big bikes are very stable, but you never tell that to hot chicks to whom you wish to give a ride)? For the younger of both sexes, whom one would think would be the most price-conscious, are you really going to pull up outside of your date’s pad in this? Are people really going to plunk a fair amount of money down on something without a trunk and can’t hold much more cargo than a few bags of groceries? Are they really going to feel secure cruising down city streets, much less highways, with most other vehicles two to three times bigger trundling along – computer simulations promise a five-star federal government safety rating, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be disproportionately more accidents with and much higher overall damage to such small vehicles? Because of this, will insurance costs eat away in large part at the pricing and operating cost advantages?

At least parallel parking would appear easy. But it might be wishful thinking, given consumer preferences, that the price angle might override other considerations such as this. Two-wheel, even three-wheel, motorcycles are chosen for reasons much different that a four-wheel automobile. This gap the hybrid faces might be a bridge too far to be commercially successful.

If it does fail, maybe the additional unit leasing planned alongside the manufacturing portion might survive, and any improvements left over, none paid for by taxpayers, might attract other businesses and, in the short run, does pump so money into local coffers. So it’s not a bad thing. But whether it ends up being anything more than a temporary shot in the arm, or subject to attempts of Caddo to break even, is very much up in the air.

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