When Bev Hargraves first saw Elio Motors' three-wheeled car prototype in 2013 – a tandem two-seater that promised 84 miles per gallon – he saw it as the perfect way to save money on fuel while driving to play in amateur golf tournaments.
Hargraves, an insurance salesman from Little Rock, Arkansas, placed a $1,000 deposit on the Elio, which was advertised for less than $7,000.
Eight years later, he still hasn’t gotten his vehicle – and he hasn’t gotten his money back, either.
Hargraves, 70, says he can't help but “wonder if it was a scam to start with” rather than just a company struggling to reach production.
After securing more than 65,000 reservations totaling tens of millions of dollars, Elio Motors went silent in 2018, saying virtually nothing for three years until USA TODAY began looking into the company this summer.
Despite promising to begin vehicle production as soon as 2014, the company has repeatedly failed to get off the ground at its factory in Shreveport, Louisiana, a former General Motors property. It has never sold a single vehicle.
In early September 2021, the Phoenix-based company broke its silence by announcing it was pivoting to a $15,000 electric version of its car. Production, it said, is expected to begin in 2022. But it has not identified a viable path toward raising the hundreds of millions of dollars it says it needs to get there.
At the same time, the company warned in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that there’s “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay afloat.
But Paul Elio, founder and CEO of Elio Motors, said in an interview with USA TODAY that he believes the company can still succeed. And he said Elio Motors was “upfront and bold” from the beginning that the deposits it took from customers were nonrefundable.
“I think the vast majority of folks are still rooting for us. I think the vast majority of folks realize this is not a scam,” he said Sept. 14 in his first major media interview in several years. “What we’re trying to do is hard. It really is hard. And we may or may not make it. Until we’ve made it, we haven’t. But the thing that pisses me off is when people call it a scam like we’re not honorable. Because there’s no evidence of that, ever.”
Here’s what we learned during our investigation: