PHOENIX — What has three wheels, an enclosed seating area, a steering wheel, pedals and safety belts?
Well, under current Arizona law, it’s a motorcycle, even though it bears little resemblance to the Harleys, Hondas and Suzukis, or even to their cousins with handlebars and two rear wheels.
That law is creating problems for Elio Motors, which is hoping to market its 84-mpg car with two front wheels and a single rear wheel next year to Arizona consumers. The company is lobbying state lawmakers to classify what it will sell as something else: an “autocycle.”
Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, who is sponsoring SB 1201, said this is more than a marketing tool.
Burges said Arizona law classifies anything with three wheels as a motorcycle. And what that means, she said, is it can be driven only by someone with a motorcycle license.
That’s only about 14 percent of the state’s more than 4.8 million drivers, putting a severe crimp in the number of potential customers.
But the lobbyist for Elio Motors, Joel Sheltrown, said the problem is deeper than that.
He said would-be owners of the vehicle, expected to retail at $6,800, certainly could try to get a motorcycle license. Only thing is, they can’t pass the field portion of that test in an Elio, which he said has the same front wheelbase as a Ford Taurus.
“We run over the cones and the white lines,” Sheltrown said. “And we can’t do the figure eight in the road test.”
SB 1201 would get around that in two ways.
First, it would create an entirely new class of vehicle in state law, a definition that seems custom-made for Elio.
Under the legislation, an autocycle would be any vehicle in which the driver and passengers ride in a completely enclosed seating area that also is equipped with a roll cage. There also would need to be safety belts and anti-lock brakes. And it would be controlled with a steering wheel and pedals just like a regular car.
Potentially more significant, the proposal would spell out that the kind of license needed to operate a motorcycle or moped “is not necessary for operating an autocycle.”
Sheltrown said a special license and training are unnecessary for the vehicle, even though there is only a single rear wheel. He said the car’s “lateral G,” a measurement of such stability, is actually better than for some other vehicles on the road.
“Going into a skid at 60 miles per hour on flat ground, the Elio will not flip,” he said.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has worked with the manufacturer and is convinced that special training is unnecessary, agreed Kevin Biesty, lobbyist for the department.
Sheltrown said the company, currently headquartered in Michigan but planning to move to Arizona, believes the vehicle probably could be legally operated now without a motorcycle license. But he’s not willing to risk it.
“I want for our customers to be able to drive without fear of getting a citation,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to take that chance.”
Burges said she agreed to sponsor the legislation because it provides a less-expensive and fuel-efficient alternative for motorists. “I find the make and design intriguing, to say the least,” she said.
The measure already has been approved by the Senate Transportation Committee and now awaits action by the full chamber.
There are no Elios on the road right now, at least not for general use. Sheltrown said the hope is to have them start rolling off the Louisiana assembly line early next year.
But that hasn’t stopped the company from trying to line up buyers now.
The company’s website is taking $100 deposits from drivers who want to be among the first to own one. Elio reports it has more than 9,000 reservations.