Eli ZERO Is a Vehicle Designed to Fit Cities

The little electric two-seater could do most of the trips people use full-sized cars for.

Eli ZERO in Italy
Eli ZERO in Italy.

Eli Electric Vehicles

Almost half of all car trips in the U.S. are less than three miles, with 75% under 10 miles. Yet so many people use a full-size car, an SUV, or these days, a pickup truck for a trip that could be handled by a much smaller vehicle. This is the world of micromobility, where Treehugger has prescribed e-bikes and cargo bikes, but many people are not comfortable with these.

Eli Zero being loaded

Eli Electric Vehicles

Then there is the Eli ZERO. It is a gorgeous but teensy little vehicle that addresses many of the problems with full-sized cars. Eli electric vehicles sound a lot like Treehugger with its pitch:

"Cars over the years have brought us farther apart and encouraged sprawling, which created more need for cars. The automotive industry sold us a car-dependent future in which traffic and congestion, are inevitable side effects of progress. SUVs that are used for just couple of hours a week take up valuable urban spaces, forcing us to travel farther to reach destinations, using more fuel and emitting excessive pollutants."
Eli in production

Eli Electric Vehicles

The Eli ZERO was seen at CES in Las Vegas a few years ago but is now in limited production. It is a cute little thing made of aluminum, has a range of 70 miles with the bigger 8-kilowatt-hour battery and a 72-volt electrical system, and charges in 2.5 hours. It has all kinds of car-like features including power-assisted braking and steering, rear cameras, and parking sensors. The interior is "vegan leather" and cupholders. It can hold two people and 160 liters of stuff.

Interior of Eli

Eli Electric Vehicles

The Eli ZERO is a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, (NEV) a class of battery-powered cars with a speed limit of 25 mph and are limited to roads with maximum speed limits of less than 35 mph. Many of them are glorified golf carts. There have been many of these on the market for years, and many have failed, I thought primarily because so many American commutes involve highways that NEVs are not allowed to drive on.

Founder and CEO Marcus Li was "inspired by his training as an architect to found Eli and enhance the urban experience through mobility innovation." We asked him what the main thing was that differentiated the Eli Zero from previous attempts at this and he gave Treehugger a thorough reply:

"Although in the U.S. we are accustomed to a culture of sprawling highways and oversized trucks, many households are, in fact, located within just miles of daily amenities. Yet, there are few options for easy and affordable local trips. 
With 75% of U.S. car trips being under 10 miles, we believe the potential for micro-EV products can be unleashed by well-designed products, and a cultural and lifestyle shift towards sustainability and efficiency.
According to an extensive SCAG report (“Zero Emission Local Use Vehicles—The Neglected Sustainable Transportation Mode”, Siembab 2013), the lackluster product options in the NEV market is a major hurdle to its wider adoption. According to the report, ”Past NEV market performance is not a good guide to the future,” and with wider adoption, NEVs can potentially account for 83% of the vehicle trips under 5 miles. 
Eli ZERO also differentiates itself from existing LSV/NEV offerings, which are mostly based on open-air golf cart designs. Besides being fully enclosed, Eli ZERO is built on a custom-designed micro-EV system architecture, which combines automotive features such as air conditioning, keyless entry, and power steering/ braking. Incorporating these advanced features requires know-how and engineering complexities that are on par with automotive design; it also requires global supply chain capabilities, which our team has developed over the years. 
With the introduction of Eli ZERO, our goal is to deliver a category-defining mobility experience and tap into the real potential for NEV’s wide adoption."
Eli with trunk open

Eli Electric Vehicles

There is a lot to love about the Eli Zero, especially in a world where we start measuring both the upfront and operating emissions, both of which are going to be negligible compared to a regular car. Li says: "At less than half the size of a conventional car, Eli ZERO uses significantly less material and parts. This makes Eli ZERO not only affordable and low maintenance, also much more energy efficient on urban streets, and generates lower carbon footprint throughout its lifecycle."

Eli Parked

Eli Electric vehicle

For city use, it will certainly be fast enough and easier to park. It's also affordable and is estimated to sell for $12,000 stateside—that's less than some high-end cargo e-bikes. The Eli ZERO can't go in the bike lanes and has to travel with car traffic, but they actually envision there being more room on the roads when automated driving tech catches up and there are fewer parked cars.

Eli ZERO on urban street

Eli Electric Vehicles

"This will open up space for a new type of vehicle for frequent daily trips in cities, without the cancerous congestion or fetishization of power and speed, and micro-EVs like Eli ZERO can replace SUVs and large vehicles to become the primary vehicles on dense urban streets in the future," says Li.

The company has distribution agreements in Europe and is raising more money through crowdfunding. Perhaps it is Li's training as an architect, but he is pushing all the right urbanist green Treehugger buttons.

"We are at a consequential moment in history—as urban density rapidly increases along with unprecedented climate challenge, we are facing an urgent need to reimagine urban transport," said Li. "We need to build vehicles that fit cities instead of the other way around."