Breaking into the automotive industry is incredibly difficult - getting through all of the regulatory hurdles is near-Sisyphean. As a result, many startup automakers over the years have decided to lose a rear wheel to qualify for the motorcycle rules, especially those looking to make high efficiency vehicles. While some have had success - Morgan comes to mind - many have... not. This post is about those that have not.

So, let’s pick three vaporware three-wheelers. No, none of them will be the Dale. Let’s not talk about the Dale.

Aptera 2e

The Aptera 2e was an attempt at an extremely high efficiency two-seat electric vehicle, with aerodynamics usually only seen on light planes. Estimated range was 120 miles (193 km) on a 20 kWh battery (which would imply a downright impressive 1.67 kWh/100 mi, 1.04 kWh/100 km, or about 202 MPGe), with an 82 kW (110 hp) motor driving the front wheels.

Unfortunately, with issues securing Department of Energy loans, lack of investor interest in the Aptera 2e and 2h, and a failed move towards a 4-wheeled model, Aptera shut down in 2011, not having sold a single vehicle.



This is an interesting one, because it’s not actually quite dead yet.

The Elio is an attempt at a low-cost, tandem seat high efficiency vehicle, with a ~55 hp (~41 kW) 3-cylinder gasoline engine driving the front wheels, and claimed efficiency of 84 MPG highway (1.19 gal/100 mi, 2.80 l/100 km). The original price target was $6800, but that’s crept up over the years.

The many, many, many years. Paul Elio has been showing various prototypes of this three-wheel design off since 2008, many of them powered by a clapped out Geo Metro powertrain, although Elio now has their own engine designed by IAV (a German automotive consultancy half-owned by Volkswagen).


Realistically, it isn’t going to happen - the target for an efficient vehicle has moved drastically since 2008 (when the Prius was seen as the pinnacle of efficiency, and this blew its highway efficiency out of the water, for far less money), and they’re not going to get the resources they need to actually put their design into production. So, it goes here.

Ford Cockpit


Who says that startups have to have all the fun, of failing to actually sell a three-wheeler? Ford and Ghia designed the Cockpit as their own high-efficiency concept in 1981, estimated at as high as 95 MPG (1.05 gal/100 mi, 2.48 l/100 km) in the city.

Ultimately, I felt that I had to have a RWD option, for those who don’t want FWD. This is RWD, it’s got a sequential manual transmission, and the engine’s even behind the driver - promising!

...or not.

The engine’s a Vespa PX200 engine. It’s tuned to make 12 horsepower (8.9 kW). It’s fully un-sprung weight.


I couldn’t make the RWD option too good, now, could I? (I thought about putting the Lean Machine here, but it really was too good.)