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Elio: Cooper tires are good fit for three-wheeled vehicle

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Cooper Tire will supply tires to the three-wheeled, two-passenger Elio.

FINDLAY, Ohio—Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has signed a letter of intent to supply automotive startup Elio Motors Inc. with original equipment on the firm's three-wheeled, two-passenger vehicle.

The Elio is expected to compete in the ultra high mileage category beginning by the end of 2014.

The car weighs about 1,200 pounds and runs on a three-cylinder, 55-horsepower, fuel-injected engine.

It's expected to retail for about $6,800, and Elio Motors said it plans to manufacture the vehicle in Shreveport, La., using parts made primarily in North America.

The company will create a total of 3,000 jobs, 1,500 of them in Shreveport, according to Paul Elio, founder and CEO of Elio Motors.

The executive said his company had two criteria when selecting tires for its vehicle. It wanted high quality, well-performing tires to go with its vehicle and set a goal to produce 90 percent of the content in North America. Cooper's management team also is easy to work with, the firm said.

“They have some really interesting technology that they're bringing to the table that I'm very excited about,” Elio said. “You have to balance gas mileage with handling and braking. For one, you want the widest stickiest tire you can get, and for the other, you want a narrow tire. We're going to have to find that blend that fits all the objectives.”

Elio said Cooper's high mileage tire off the shelf looks like it's a good fit for the car.

But he also said his company is not constrained to that if another option presents itself while working with Cooper in the development process. Elio Motors currently has 34 suppliers working together.

“We do things differently at Elio. It's really a partnership of suppliers,” Elio said. “Once every four to six weeks we gather up all the suppliers. We come together and work on the vehicle as a group for three days, then come back four to six weeks later.”

Elio generated the idea in 2008, when oil prices were rising.

The executive said he felt frustrated with the wealth that was pouring into the Middle East and wanted to use known technology to develop a high mileage vehicle. What dominated the design was the concept of front to back seating.

“The project has a broad impact,” Elio said. “If we hit our nominal production volumes for five consecutive years, we can reduce total U.S. gas consumption by a half a percent.”