Elio Motors may have reached an important milestone in putting its "84-mpg" two-seat three-wheeler into production.
While the company still faces questions about its finances and ability to meet a potential change in safety regulations, Elio claims it is almost ready to sell some vehicles.
It plans to sell 100 "pre-production" models built at its former General Motors factory near Shreveport, Louisiana, later this year.
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Those first 100 vehicles will go to "one or more fleet customers," Elio Motors founder and CEO Paul Elio said in a press release announcing the pre-production run.
The company had originally planned to use the 100 pre-production models for "internal purposes," Elio explained.
That plan was laid out in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Elio Motors prototype at New York Auto Show press conference, Apr 2015
It's unclear how close these pre-production model will be to the final version that will be sold to customers.
Elio claims to have already have more than $300 million in pre-orders for the three-wheeled car, with 50,000 reservations for a spot in line for production models.
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Most of those customer orders will not be filled until 2017, Elio now says, as the company continues to seek funding.
It recently completed a "crowdfunded" stock offering that took advantage of a new law that allows less-wealthy investors to put up to $15,000 into startup companies.
Companies can't raise more than $50 million from these so-called "non-accredited investors."
Elio Motors 84 mpg 3-wheeler (Image: Elio Motors)
It was reported in January that Elio was considering pursuing a loan from the Department of Energy's (DOE) Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (AVTM) program.
This is the same program that financed Tesla's conversion of the former GM-Toyota NUMMI plant in California to electric-car production, as well as development of the troubled Fisker Karma.
And even if it can secure all of the funding it needs, Elio may still run afoul of a safety-rule change proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The new rule would close the loophole that would allow Elio to certify its car under motorcycle safety standards.
That would mean Elio's tiny three-wheeler would have to meet the same safety standards as conventional cars.