House committee passes bill for Elio Motors concept car

A Louisiana House committee Tuesday advanced legislation that would exempt a new concept vehicle from the legal category that requires drivers to wear helmets.

The House Transportation committee approved House Bill 218 without objection after Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, much of the Caddo Parish delegation and several local government officials asked for passage.

HB218’s exemption would apply to the three-wheeled Elio Motors vehicle, which is preparing for production at the Shreveport plant that once made pickups for General Motors.

Because the Elio has three wheels, it’s considered a motorcycle under federal and state safety regulations.

GM gave up the property in 2009 as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and then leased the plant from a trust fund until it stopped making vehicles there last year. Elio Motors acquired the site in January after the state offered a package of economic incentives.

“We look forward now to be effectively able to repurpose that plant,” Glover said.

Woodrow Wilson Jr., Caddo Parish administrator, said that at its height, General Motors employed 3,000 people and paid the parish $1.3 million annually in property taxes.

Elio expects Elio Motors to employ about 1,500 people and use roughly half the 3.2 million-square-foot plant.

Joel Sheltrown, vice president for governmental affairs at Elio Motors, said the vehicle is being tested now and production is expected to begin by June 2014. The three-wheeled vehicle would get about 84 miles per gallon, have air conditioning and weigh less than 1,600 pounds. It would cost about $6,800 per unit, he said.

At 13½ feet long, the Elio vehicle is longer than BMW 330 and has a top speed of 106 mph, Sheltrown said.

Companies in China and Mexico have voiced interest in marketing the vehicles in those countries, Sheltrown said, adding that he hopes the plant will make about 250,000 vehicles annually, but the exact number will be determined by a future market study.

“It definitely affects our sales because a lot of people don’t want to order the car if it requires wearing helmets,” Sheltrown said.

State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, raised questions about the safety standards the Elio vehicle would have to adhere to because the three-wheeled vehicle is considered a motorcycle under federal law, rather than an automobile, which requires a higher level of safety.

Sheltron responded, “We’re not bound by automotive standards, but that is our goal.” The vehicle would have air bags, a roll cage frame and antilock brakes, he said.

State Rep. Terry Landry, a former superintendent of the State Police and supporter of motorcycle helmets, endorsed the legislation.

“I think your company has done its due diligence,” Landry, D-Lafayette, said. “This is where we are going as a nation, with these types of vehicles.”

HB218, which was sponsored by state Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, now goes to the full House for consideration.