What would you say about a car that gets 84 miles per gallon, costs only $6,800, and can actually be "free" with some unique financing? There has to be a catch, right?
 
Well, sort of. But only sort of.
 
The car is the three-wheeled Elio, from startup Elio Motors. It only seats two, and then only with the passenger directly behind the driver. Also, founder Paul Elio is still lining up funding, and should everything fall into place, the first car would be delivered in late 2016.
 
When Elio talks about the various segments of the car-buying market, it's easy to see why he's excited. Consider these four segments:
  1. New-car market, with sales of about 17 million expected next year.
  2. Used-car market, which is three times larger than the new-car market.
  3. "Third-vehicle" market. Most middle- and upper-income households have at least one single-occupant vehicle, also known as an "and" vehicle.
  4. "Clunker" market, with 234 million older cars on the road -- and 95 million of them 11 years old or older. 
Elio says he won't make much of a dent in the new-car market, but the other three segments can be lucrative. For used cars, the decision may be between a 120,000-mile Civic or a new Elio under warranty for less than $7,000. The third-vehicle market is self-explanatory -- why spend extra on a lot of car when you don't need a lot of car?
 
The clunker market is where things get interesting, and where the "free" car comes into play. The company wants to offer a unique financing option whereby your gas savings can make your payments. This would allow you -- if you're a qualified buyer -- to drive away in a brand-new car with no money down and a special credit card from Elio. This card must be used to pay for gas purchases, where you'll be charged triple the amount at the pump. So, if you fill the tank for $10, $30 will be charged to the card, and Elio keeps $20.
 
If you've replaced a clunker that got 27 miles per gallon or less on the highway, your total fuel bill would remain the same (or even go down) while you're paying off the car. (Assuming you drive the same amount with your new Elio.) The reason is simple: With a target of 84 mpg highway and 47 mpg in the city, the Elio will get about three times better mileage than your clunker.  
 
One of the more fascinating aspects to the Elio story is the fact that ordinary folks like you and me can invest in it, even though it's not on the stock market. This is possible through the SEC's new Regulation A+, which provides individuals the opportunity to invest in early-stage companies. This type of investment would be very risky, of course, and you shouldn't invest money in this type of venture that you're not prepared to lose entirely.
 
Now, how does the Elio get 84 miles per gallon and have a target price of only $6,800? And... what's it like to drive this most unique of vehicles? I was able to take the car for a spin, and get all these questions answered, in the video below. One thing's for sure: If you decide to buy one of these, you'll be very popular!
 

Video transcript:

Rex Moore: "I'm about to get into a true prototype. This is not a production model, but it's a prototype of Elio Motors' new car. It really looks nice, I've gotta tell you. Let me get in here... let's start this guy up... and we are going to take off."

Door slams "Oops."

And since this is a prototype, I felt like a test pilot at times. This car doesn't even have the real engine in it... that's for the next prototype.

Moore: "I know the motor will not be this loud in the actual production model."

...and have a much nicer ride. But the purpose of this vehicle is to give a sense of what it will be like to drive the car, and, uniquely... sit squarely in the middle of the road between the two front wheels.

Paul Elio, founder of Elio Motors: "I don't know if you noticed, but you don't know that you're missing a wheel. It handles and drives like any other vehicle you've ever been in. But secondly, there's something natural about being right in between the wheels instead of off-center. And it's just kind of fun. You're like in a little race car."

There's also the matter of what a passenger might experience in the backseat.

Moore: "And I can tell... I am comfortable. I'm six feet tall and I've got plenty of headroom here. I'm not sure how much room a passenger's going to have in the back. Heather is back there right now and I think she's doing well."

Heather Horton: "I've got about two inches in front of my knees. I'm only 5'2" though. On a good day."

This prototype also gives a great sense of how popular you'll be on the road.... as we caught plenty of attention on our short test drive.

Moore: "How's it going?"

Man in truck: "Is it legal?"

Moore: "Barely, it's a prototype."

So how is the Elio going to get 84 miles per gallon... and sell for only $6,800?

Elio: "Well, I wish I had an answer for that. So 84 miles per gallon I can explain really easily. At highway speeds, most of your fuel goes to moving air. We sit two occupants front to back, so we're half as wide and move half as much air to double the mileage.

Price point -- there's like eight or nine things that we do really well that add up to be a big number, but some of those are we abandoned the package system. So if you look around your vehicle, you spent thousands of dollars on things you neither need nor want. So we build our vehicle only two ways -- standard and automatic. That's it. They all come with air conditioning, power windows, power door lock, and stereo."

Beyond that, you're free to pick and choose only the features you'd like to add on, such as power leather seats and blind-spot-detecting mirrors. And expect third-party suppliers to step up with even more options.

I can't say for sure how well the Elio would sell, but as I mentioned, there is intense interest in the vehicle -- with many people stopping to ask about it.

Man: "That looks really cool."

Moore: "Yeah, it's an interesting concept. I'm thinking it would be a great commuting car. And with three wheels you can also classify it as a motorcycle, and get in the Express Lanes."

Man: "Express Lanes...."

Moore: "You know what I'm talking about!"

Man: "I drive, commute every day for two hours. And something like that, especially for people in this area?"

I for one will be anxiously awaiting a test drive of the final product.

Moore: "That is one interesting ride. I'm used to people always looking at me when I drive, but not for this reason."

Reporting from the road in Alexandria, Virginia, I'm Motley Fool analyst Rex Moore.

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