If you've noticed more three-wheeled vehicles on the highway this summer, you might be wondering: Is this a trend, or is my midlife crisis biasing my observations?
Your midlife is yours to ponder. But there's mounting evidence three-wheeled vehicles are, in fact, growing in popularity.
The Economist, in a recent report, says that the trend began in 2012. That's when Morgan, the British company whose two-seat V-Twin was the most popular three-wheeler prior to World War II, launched an updated version of the V-Twin in the U.S. "So popular has this vintage-looking three-wheeler, with its lusty American motorcycle engine, become that it apparently now outsells all other (four-wheel) Morgans in the United States and elsewhere," notes The Economist.
The resurgence of the Morgan is one reason three-wheelers became trendy again. Another reason? Three-wheelers are generally classified as motorcycles--and therefore "do not have to undergo costly crash testing. Nor must they meet the same emissions requirements as four-wheel vehicles," points out The Economist. What's more, in spite of that motorcycle classification, in many regions of the US, you do not need to pass a separate motorcycle test to drive a three-wheeler, as long as your regular drivers license is valid.
You can see why three-wheelers appeal both to drivers and manufacturers. Which companies are hoping to cash in on this trend? In addition to the Morgan, The Economist cites three:
1. Polaris Industries.
Based in Medina, Minnesota, $4.5-billion Polaris (NYSE: PII) has been around since 1954, making snowmobiles and motorcycles and other all-terrain vehicles. Last year, it launched the Slingshot, a three-wheeler featuring a 2.4 liter engine from General Motors. The Slingshot's three models start at $21,199.
Based in Montreal, Campagna has specialized in three-wheelers since 1988. Its three models start at $53,999. In fact, a few years back, one of those models--the T-Rex--made an appearance on Jay Leno's Garage, the comedian and former late-night host's online series devoted to cars.
3. Elio Motors.
You might have been wondering: Where are the startups? Look no further than Elio Motors. Based in Phoenix, Elio Motors was founded in 2008. The company is touting 84 miles per gallon and a base price of $6,800 on vehicles it will make at a former General Motors plant in Shreveport. The company says the vehicles will be available in late 2016.
Elio has already made waves in the world of crowdfunding. In a campaign that began in June on StartEngine.com, Elio has raised almost $34 million in pledges from more than 9,000 participants. (Founder Paul Elio spoke to Inc.'s Jeremy Quittner about the crowdfunding campaign earlier this summer.)
Will the Elio reach the road late next year? In the world of startups, a lot can change in 12 months. Moreover, Elio's competition is strong and established. But clearly, there are legitimate signs of consumer interest in a lower-cost three wheeler.