In case you missed the recent LA Auto Show there’s (yet another) new wave of upstart (er… startup) automobile manufacturers coming on-line even as the Big Three (almost in panic mode it seems) jettison their compact and sedan lines in favor of trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.
We’ve now heard of at least four or five new marques springing up in the electrically powered segment, all which are harboring high hopes of being able to gain any sort of market share which can actually be expressed in whole numbers.
The new company names and projected products always seem to gather interest but most of it (at least at this point) seems to be more like curiosity than actual purchase intent.
Car history buffs will tell you that this has all happened before: the announcement of a tiny car that is inexpensive (better still: “affordable”), that’s fun to drive, that will help to solve traffic woes, that will drive your neighbors to drink with envy, make you a better person than even your mom thinks you are, deliver amazin’ fuel mileage (and/or battery range), and which will work great day, night, and on weekends as well for urbanites and others across this vast land of ours and well beyond.
So it is written.
Much of the above being promised anew … I traveled to Studio City on a bright December day to test drive a car that, as near as I can remember, is something of a first (at least for this particular decade): a true single-seater with room for one person and one person only.
The name of the car: “SOLO” is straight up and descriptive, and my guess is that it’s rather obvious: “OK … Where’s the rest of it?”-cropped styling will say (in fact shout) the rest for this closely coupled mono-coupe.
This time around (because this car was pitched as a traffic-beater-commuter) I started to write this story on the way to ElectraMeccanica’s new offices/showroom on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City from my secret office digs in Duarte.
Slowly advancing on the San Fernando Valley aboard my 2014 four-place Ford Fiesta at 9:30 in the Thursday morning-thick, westbound traffic I noted that what seemed to me to be about 70%* of the cars around me had only one person in them (and that included mine).
Maybe that’s the way we roll because we’ve (at least up until now) not had the op to buy a car like the miniscule Solo for the $15,500 (plus tax and license) quoted in the literature. We’ll see about that.
At the (mid-December 2018) time of this writing, no production models have been delivered, but we were told that they were nigh. And that some 20,000 people across the North American continent have already plunked down a $250 deposit on one of these handy-dandy one-seaters already.
So … what was the SOLO really like to drive? Let’s see, you sit in seat with the car all around you more like cockpit of a small light plane, your seat/belt shoulder harness comes from the right and latches on the left, the controls are reasonably nominal (there’s a dash-mounted control to select D Drive, N Neural, or R reverse) there are two large (outside mounted) rear view mirrors and a TV back up cam. With doors on either side of the driver’s compartment, you have a choice of exit plans as the mood strikes (and, as centered as you are here, you are equidistant from either).
Whoa … I almost forgot (but you suspected this all along from the company name … right?): this is a plug-in pure electric vehicle that boasts a 100-mile range between charging its good-sized (for the size of the vehicle) lithium-ion battery. For the tech-minded the crib notes here say that one can fill the battery back up with a full “tank’ of electrons in 3 hours with a Level II 220V charger.
I found getting in the first time somewhat clumsy, but I’ve got a bad knee and like 30 more laps around the sun on me than the intended player(s) here. Once folded in there was ample room. Making that point far better than me was that LA’s KABC7’s chief car explainer, Dave Kunz (who must go at about 6’4” / 239 lbs.) was able to climb aboard, have a fun drive and returned back, decanting from the vehicle with broad smile on his face.
At this point, and with no true production yet units in the hands of the public as yet, a dealership network is being developed starting with the mothership right here in LA’s storied San Fernando Valley where the Teslas roam free.
As with virtually all electrically powered vehicles, even one this small, there’s a brisk blast of acceleration waiting under one’s right foot with 128 foot pounds of launch torque propelling a wisp of a machine that weighs in at a willowy 1,653 pounds sans driver. We never went over 65 on our 12-15 mile sojourn but the claimed 88 miles per hour top speed and 0 to 60 clocking of 8 seconds seemed quite attainable.
Even though the cars that we saw were not fully signed off production models, the fit and finish was very clean. The styling is contemporary enough up front but from the doors on back the story changes very quickly.
In fact there’s not really a lot of “back” back there. There’s an angle in some of the advertising photos that makes the car look like one of those trick cars in a slapstick comedy where the front half drives away from the back half … in which the lack of ANY visible rear wheels (“wheel” singular in this case) really sells the premise.
…That illusion is only temporary, and the thumbs up(s) and dropped jaws from other drivers and the beguiling looks from the sidewalks tell you in no uncertain terms that adorable works.
In the cool/desirable part of this one’s ledger there’s a pretty nice list of standard stuff that will give little Solo a healthy glow for buyers. Among them: remote keyless entry, power windows (2), AM/FM stereo (w/Bluetooth!), heated seat (1), air conditioning, heater/defogger, that back up camera I mentioned earlier, LED headlights, and TA … DAAAH!: 160 liters of cargo space (which, as I just found out on Google, is the equivalent of 5.65 cubic feet).
And that cool little glossy blacked-out rear window … sorry it’s a fake. With you sitting right in the middle of this bolide a conventional rear view mirror would only work for personal grooming, and maybe some (sorta creepy) intimate talks with oneself.
Since this was not a full review drive (it was what we call a “duck run”**) we didn’t have a lot of chances to check the handling. What we did shake out of this one was that the steering feedback felt good and the brakes were firm and effective in a combination of SF Valley street traffic and a quick few miles on the freeway on a busy Thursday morning. (I hope to get one for a few days to really test the utility when the production models reach LA.)
1) My guess here is that any advertising regarding the SOLO will have some good fun with the words “personal” and “personality”… They’ll be right.
2) My conclusion here is that the ElectraMeccanica SOLO is every bit as practical as a Chevy Suburban. I understand that may sound a bit strange at first reading, but think about it for a moment or two before you laugh, that, or (better still) go drive one yourself, I think then that you’ll understand. – DS
ONE MORE THING:
This smallish 3-wheel “car” that we’ve been talking about is actually classified and will be registered for all intents and purposes as a motorcycle. That designation lifts a number of safety requirements off its smallish shoulders, which include the use of airbags, and bumpers and structure that meet federal (crash) standards.
In truth, the car has a stout “aerospace” frame and a real roll bar in the driver’s compartment, which obviates the need for wearing a helmet (and CALDOT agrees).
We all know “Size matters”, “tonnage wins” … and all the other saying that talk about smaller and larger vehicles sharing the road are in play here, but no matter how heavy and bulletproof the vehicle there’s always someone out there driving something bigger and heavier and there’s a lot to be said for alert drivers and good handling in avoiding finding out who has the toughest vehicle in the first place.
WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT 3 WHEELS?:
Right … this one only has three rubber roundies as opposed to four on your (whatever). There are two up front with one drive wheel centered in the back, and as any Cal Poly engineer can tell you, the tripod is one of the most balanced and sturdy shapes in all of engineering.
OK THEN: Here’s the tire deal if you buy a SOLO: the only time that you’ll ever … ever know that it “only” has three wheels is when you need new tires. Stability here is good and future owners will have to negotiate with Pep Boys on their “Buy 3 … Get the 4th Tire Free” deal.
We fired this long note about a short drive in a small car off with the term “startup”, just so you know, the company that makes the little SOLO is anything but. The parent company jumped into the automobile-making business almost 60 years ago putting out some (very) limited production 2-place sports cars with Italian underpinnings and flowing coachwork that featured brawny American V-8 engines under their voluptuous hoods. (Search cars called: “Apollo”, “Italia”, “Indra”, and “Murena”).
*Which turned out to be a pretty darn accurate guesstimate. The ElectraMeccanica people’s far more scientific findings put that number right at 74%. That’s a lot of multi-seater machines with only one backside aboard, and that’s the whole idea here.
** Most early review rides for new cars feature a factory engineer or company spokes person in the right seat … here we followed a mother duck car on our little Valley road rallye.
The SOLO is built in (of all places) Vancouver, BC Canada.
Note from the author: There’s a comment section right below this story and we’d really like to hear your thoughts on the idea of a single-seat, electrically-powered, personal commuter car like the SOLO. Does it make sense for you? Is it something that fits in with your lifestyle? Would you retain a multi-passenger vehicle as well? Please let us (and the other LACar readers) know how you feel about this vehicle. Thanks very much!
more specs and some driving footage here: www.electrameccanica.com
REPORT: Doug Stokes PHOTOS: Electrameccanica.com