Once upon a time, there was a small car company in America that promised a fantastically economical car at stunningly low prices. It wasn’t exactly a car — it was more like a tube with three wheels — but consumers seemed ready to compromise. After all, it claimed to achieve 84 MPG and would cost $7,000. The year was 2013, and anything seemed possible.
Four years later, the story of Elio Motors is a bit of a bore. It now has the theoretical price of $7,300 and remains in limbo. Meanwhile, Hyundai is prepping a hybrid that gets 60 MPG in the city and an EV that tops 130 MPGe for 2017 release. (These four-door sedans also have trunks and do not require a motorcycle license.) Over in France, Renault says it has an $8,000 car in the works, Autocar reports. This car is a pure electric vehicle coming from the segment’s all-time top seller.
In other words, the goal posts for economical cars continue to move, and we can’t find anything that compares with a new EV under $10,000. But we would like to know what such a car would be like. A few years from now, it might be the thing we believed Elio could be, minus the emissions.
A good starting point is Renault ZOE, the compact EV now on sale around the globe (though not in the U.S.). ZOE achieves about 186 miles per charge in its latest, best iteration. However, any EV that undercuts the majority of the auto market would have to be limited to 125 miles or so, we imagine. Otherwise, battery costs would drive up the sticker price.
As far as performance is concerned, ZOE delivers about 75 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, making it a car built for the city. However, the low-priced model in development will be able to handle highway driving, regardless of its specs. Currently, French consumers can get a new ZOE for as little as $155 per month, so the price is not far-fetched, even for 2017.
According to a Renault-Nissan spokesman, the target market for the $8,000 EV is China, where government subsidies and runaway air pollution in cities create a higher demand for plug-ins. The automaker has not scheduled production yet, but Autocar said the company considers the car “highly likely” to start rolling off the line in China sometime in the next few years.
In fact, China already has dirt-cheap electric vehicles on the road. Roewe, a Chinese brand that makes electric compacts, offered its e50 for about $12,000 after incentives starting in 2013. That price matched the cost of mini cars like the ones Smart produces for the American market. (A Smart Electric Drive starts around $25,000 before incentives in the U.S.)
The e50 offers about 70 horses and 114 pound-feet of torque plus 120 miles of range. With advances in battery technology and electric motor production, Renault can likely top these specs, especially with respect to performance. Meanwhile, its price would fall below what Roewe offered several years ago.
If the past dictates what Renault’s cheap EV could offer for the Chinese market, we expect to see a winning vehicle coming down the road. Hopefully, Elio can deliver its three-wheeler in America by then. But we won’t hold our breath. Or get our crash helmets ready.