- I tested the $18,500 ElectraMeccanica Solo, a three-wheeled electric vehicle with room for one.
- The Canadian startup says the Solo will revolutionize the way people get around cities.
- The best thing about driving the little EV was that it attracted smiles and attention everywhere it went.
It's a cliché that Americans like things big. Big burgers, big malls, big houses. Buying a car? I'll supersize that too, please.
Last year, US buyers gobbled up more Ford F-Series pickup trucks than any other model for the 40th year running. Over half of new vehicles sold were some kind of SUV. But how much car does the average person really need, and at what point does a genuine desire for utility cross a line into good old-fashioned American excess?
These are the questions electric-vehicle startup ElectraMeccanica poses with its debut model, the outrageous-looking, three-wheeled Solo, so named because that's how you'll be traveling if you purchase one of the single-seaters.
The thinking goes like this: Most people drive alone most of the time. And typically, they aren't traveling that far or carrying that much stuff. In turn, a single-seat vehicle with around 100 miles of range and a trunk that can fit a few grocery bags should satisfy most peoples' needs more cheaply and efficiently than a conventional car.
The Canadian upstart says the $18,500 model will revolutionize the way we get around cities. It's so sure of this that it's working on a new factory in Arizona to supplement the supply of Solos coming from a contracted manufacturer in China.
Eager to put such lofty goals to the test, I jumped at the opportunity when ElectraMeccanica offered a short test drive in downtown Manhattan earlier this month.
Walking up to the Solo for the first time, I was shocked at just how small it is. In photos, it looks like half a car; in person, it's more like a quarter. Inside, however, I found there was plenty of room for my 6-foot-1 frame. I'd call it cozy, but not cramped.
Buy a Solo and you're treated to many of the comforts you'd find in a regular car: heat, air conditioning, a radio with Bluetooth, heated seats, and a little cup holder. The interior feels basic and a little cheap, but then again, the Solo isn't pretending to be high-end.
Driving the Solo EV
I only had about 20 minutes behind the wheel of the Solo, so I didn't get to take it to its claimed top speed of 80 mph, experience parking, or subject it to the Costco test. But I got a sense of what it's like to drive a Solo in a congested urban environment.
Pulling away from a stop, I half-expected the Solo to aggressively accelerate forward like many electric cars do. But it didn't. The 56-horsepower Solo isn't terribly quick, but driving it was still a thrill; it's so low to the ground that you feel almost like you're zipping around in a go-kart that escaped the track.
I'll concede that New York's potholed streets can give any vehicle a hard time, but ride quality felt lacking. The Solo conveys every bump in the road to your rear end and bounces around when the going gets rough. Braking required an unexpected amount of effort, but I got used to it pretty quickly.
While I can absolutely see the Solo's diminutive size as an asset in many situations — like parking and maneuvering around double-parked cars — it was more of a liability on the mean streets of Manhattan. Several times during my test drive, I felt utterly invisible to the big SUVs, pickups, and trucks hulking down the road around me. I'm being totally sincere when I say that the Solo could benefit from the kind of flag you sometimes see on shopping carts and recumbent bikes.
The absolute best thing about driving the Solo is the attention it gets. Everywhere I went, people grinned and pointed, craning their necks to get a better look at the tiny, shoe-shaped car-thing silently scooting by. At a busy intersection, one beaming pedestrian enthusiastically waved me through the crosswalk despite having the right of way. This almost never happens.
The Solo drives competently, can squeeze into the tiniest of parking spots, is way more efficient than a typical car, and scores off the charts in smiles per mile. If people shopped completely rationally, I bet many would realize that a Solo meets their needs. But it'll probably be a tough sell in a country where minicars like the Smart ForTwo and Fiat 500 never saw much success, and those can seat more than one person.
Driving the Solo, I got the sense that it may have more potential as a vehicle for campus police, parking enforcement, and the like, rather than commuters. And the market agrees.
Of the 100-some-odd Solos that have made it to customers since deliveries began in October, around 60% have gone to commercial buyers, ElectraMeccanica CEO Kevin Pavlov told me. He was anticipating a sales breakdown more like 50-50.
According to Pavlov, businesses and fleets like the Solo because it's cheap to run and doubles as an eye-grabbing, rolling billboard. ElectraMeccanica has a Solo oriented toward deliveries that has an expanded trunk area. Pavlov says it can fit 12 large pizzas and four two-liter bottles of soda.
Will the ElectraMeccanica Solo turn urban transport on its head? I'm not sure the company will sell enough of them to accomplish that. Is the trike an intriguing, unique option that could appeal to buyers looking for something bold, weird, or hyper efficient? Absolutely.