Preview: ECO Motor Company EMC3 Commuter
Newcastle, Washington, is a suburban enclave about 10 miles southeast of Seattle. Best known for its tony golf club and upscale housing developments, Newcastle is also the home of ECO Motor Company. The upstart company is set to launch its three-wheeled EMC3 Commuter to US customers in April, so I headed to their headquarters for a sit-down with David Joner, the company’s CEO to chat about the upcoming commuter car.
The EMC3 starts at $13,995, is estimated to get 60+ MPG, and looks like nothing else on the road in the US; it is a three-wheeled vehicle with two wheels up front and one in the rear. A 54 HP, 1.0 liter, three-cylinder engine drives the front wheels through either a manual or optional automatic transaxle. There is room for two passengers and two sets of golf clubs in the car’s cabin. The cabin is enclosed by a convertible top.
The EMC3 is the end result of what originally started as a summer project – ECO Motor Company’s CEO, David Joner, always liked to spend each summer doing hands-on projects with his children. In the spring of 2005 while on a family vacation, Joner’s son (who would turn eleven that summer) proposed that they build a car that summer. After discussions with Joner’s father Bruno (an engineer), the summer project got started. As the idea for this three-wheeled car gained momentum, the Joners were joined by Pete Brewer, Forrest Page, and several other design engineers from around the country and the world.
As the design progressed and the decision was made to put their car into production, the team at ECO had to decide where to build their car. In order to make the EMC3 affordable, they wanted to use existing technology and to work with a company skilled in the manufacture of vehicles. Looking into costs, the team estimated the EMC3 would cost nearly $27,000 if it was to be built in North America. Searching farther afield, Joner found the perfect partner in Geely, China’s largest privately-held automaker.
The EMC3 is being built in China, largely from production parts used on Geely vehicles. David Joner is fond of saying that ECO Motor Company didn’t aim to reinvent the wheel, but just to take one off. Living up to that philosophy, the EMC3 uses proven, off-the-shelf Geely mechanical components and a Geely-sourced engine. Knowing that American consumers perceive Chinese-made vehicles to be of low quality, ECO Motor Company has hired around fifty employees who work at the Geely plant to ensure that the vehicles are properly assembled with attention to quality.
Because it is has just three wheels, the EMC3 is classified by the US Department of Transportation as a motorcycle. Current licensing regulations in most states require that motorcycle drivers have a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s licenses. Here in Washington State, operators will need a Sidecar/Trike Endorsement on their driver’s licenses, which can be obtained by completing a training course and passing written and driving exams. There is talk of a bill allowing “autocycle” vehicles such as the EMC3 to be driven without a special endorsement, but such a bill is not yet law. As the vehicle provides head protection for its occupants, wearing a helmet is not required.
Although the EMC3 is classified as a motorcycle, the design team at ECO Motor Company designed the vehicle to automobile safety standards. As such, the vehicle wraps the passengers in what is effectively a roll cage, and it features front airbags, dynamic side impact beams, and reinforced A and B pillars and glazing for a 3,000 lb. rollover rating. Although not required by any federal regulations, ECO Motor Company is having crash testing performed on the EMC3 by the same laboratory used by automakers and the NHTSA.
David Joner predicts a target market of 25-45 year old drivers for the EMC3, which is about 13.5 feet long and 6 feet wide. The EMC3’s base price of $13,995 includes manual transmission, convertible top, power windows and locks, air conditioning, AM/FM/MP3 player, and front airbags. Versions with an automatic transmission start at $14,995. The vehicles are customizable at the dealer, with options including ABS, a turbocharger with intercooler (good for about 80 HP), infotainment system with navigation, and VehSmart (a telematics and driver assistance system similar to OnStar). Just as a yardstick, the base price of EMC3 is right around the price of a base model Smart car, which is also basic transportation, and gets about 40 mpg.
Although warranty terms have not been announced, expect a three year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Mr. Joner explained that he expects warranty costs to be relatively low because the parts are fairly inexpensive, and the car has been designed for quick replacement of faulty parts. As an example, rather than rebuilding an engine, it would simply be replaced.
One component of CEO David Joner’s previous life is as the manager of a suburban Seattle new car dealership. With that retail auto background, Joner knew what it would take to make owning an Eco Motor Company franchise appealing to potential dealers. The company has signed franchise agreements with hundreds of auto dealerships who will be selling the EMC3 when they begin to arrive stateside in April. Quite a few potential customers have reserved their own EMC3 at the company’s website (http://www.ecomotorcompany.com). With production already started and a capacity to build 5,000 vehicles per month, Joner predicted during our interview that if you reserved your own EMC3 now, you would have it in your driveway in May.
While its unfamiliar name and pedigree (and its convertible top) may leave some buyers cold, the 60+ MPG two-seat, three-wheeled vehicle will surely prove to be the perfect addition to some families’ garages.
I’m looking forward to the chance to drive a production EMC3 this spring, to report on its handling, economy, and real-world appeal.
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