Jerry Kroll, Electra Meccanica’s mile-a-minute-talking chairman and CEO, describes his Solo electric-powered single-seater as “a Disney ride that escaped.”
Having driven an early-build version for about 20 minutes around Los Angeles’ South Bay, I am unsure if that’s a good thing.
Three-wheeled transport ideas are hardly new. The Corbin Sparrow fluttered for about a decade before going bust a few years back. Europhiles will recall the crazy-leaning Carver, from Holland, and the sleek Peraves MonoTracer from Switzerland. But while the Euro-cycles exude technology and cool, the monopod Solo gives more of an amusement park vibe—but less Disney than an abandoned second-tier theme park in rural New Jersey.
As I contort myself into the Solo’s cramped cabin—there’s barely enough door opening space for a 6-footer to swing in his knees—I am confronted by a steering wheel as opposed to motorcycle handlebars.
After fastening the three-point seat belt, I turn the ignition key to illuminate a digital screen with graphics akin to a 1980s Atari video game. A compact disc player is mounted in the dash, giving it a further retro touch. The turn signal lever feels ripped from a Malaise Era GM sedan—cheap to the touch and sticky in actuation. Choosing reverse or drive is actuated by a left-to-right flip-switch; reverse activates a rearview camera with crisp clarity.
Pulling away, the electric motor whirrs and chirps in the old-school Jetsons style. Despite the instant torque familiar to EVs, getting away from a stop sign is slower than we’ve become accustomed to from electric cars; it picks up the pace at about 25 mph, with a claimed 0–60 of 8.0 seconds, which feels about right. Top speed is a good-enough 82 mph. Kroll claims the Solo’s 17.3-kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack has a 100-mile range and a three-hour, 220-volt J1772 recharging time, neither of which I had time to verify.
This version of the Solo lacks power steering and power brakes—to purportedly be upgraded along with some interior bits when future models arrive. Photos of a future-build interior also show some upgrades consistent with a current base-model econobox.
As equipped, steering is a chore, and brake pedal feel is similar to stepping on a brick. There is no regenerative braking, nor will there be. Steering feel is all over the place, at times darty yet completely vague. The suspension travel is short, and minor impacts jar my lumbar spine harshly. Any offset bump flops the Solo like sitting on a three-legged barstool with one leg an inch shorter than the others.
As the cabin warms up in the wintry L.A. sun, I roll down the windows. The ensuing wind noise din is louder than one would experience on a motorcycle wearing a helmet without earplugs. There’s no A/C in this model, but nonetheless I flip on the fan, which gives off a musty odor evocative of a urinal cake.
As I meander my way around the South Bay, I notice several people gawking at this unusual, low-slung vehicle, but it’s hard to tell if they are pointing in an awestruck, “Wow, that is so cool,” way or more laughingly, like, “That goofball is driving an electric banana.”
Initially, I don’t necessarily feel any more vulnerable than I would in a Mazda Miata. Kroll claims the Solo is safe, but knowing that the Solo is categorized as a motorcycle by regulators—and therefore doesn’t need to pass passenger-vehicle crash tests—is not encouraging. This proves especially true when an adjacent, inattentive BMW 3 Series swings too wide in a two-lane left turn and I am staring straight at the Bimmer’s kidney grille, mere inches away from the Solo’s thin composite shell. The low-slung Solo lacks the zip, maneuverability, and elevated 360-degree outward visibility of a proper motorcycle, and as such, I was a sitting duck. Had the BMW driver not suddenly course corrected, I would have been punted into the shoulder.
The Solo comes with a two-year warranty, along with a five-year warranty for the battery pack. The first pilot production units—like the one I am driving—are built in Vancouver, British Columbia. But series production will come from the Zongshen Industrial Group, located in Chongqing, China, according to Electra documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Kroll hopes to sell 5,000 Solos by the end of 2019—mostly in the Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle markets.
And they just could do it. The idea of a covered single-seater, priced at $15,500, is an intriguing proposition to folks fed up with commuting and urban parking hassles, especially if it gets you carpool lane access. But this early-build Solo shows a vehicle in dire need of some finishing school. We look forward to testing the updated versions coming from China.
|2019 Electra Meccanica Solo|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-motor, RWD, 1-pass, 2-door cyclecar|
|MOTOR||82-hp/128-lb-ft AC Synchronous|
|CURB WEIGHT||1,500 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||122.0 x 52.0 x 53.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.0 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|
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