BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- The House Transportation Committee backed a proposal Tuesday that would pave the way for the production of a three-wheeled vehicle called the Elio by removing the requirement that occupants wear helmets.
Officials with Elio Motors, located in the former General Motors plant in Shreveport, said the helmet requirement could harm sales by sending a signal to consumers that the vehicle was unsafe.
The bill by Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, would modify the definition of autocycle to include enclosed motorcycles with a roll cage. That change would mean occupants of an Elio wouldn't have to wear helmets or get a special "M'' endorsement on their driver's license as required of motorcyclists.
The measure heads next to the full House for discussion.
Because the Elio has three wheels, it's considered a motorcycle under federal and state safety regulations.
A company official told committee members who were concerned about road safety that Elio Motors will pursue a five-star crash test rating and the vehicle is equipped with the similar standard safety equipment as four-wheel cars.
In addition, occupants will be enclosed in a hardtop roll cage similarly to NASCAR race cars, said Joel Sheltrown, Elio's vice president of governmental affairs.
"We're building a safe vehicle because it's important to our company," Sheltrown said. "We can't sell a vehicle unless it's safe."
Despite being fully enclosed, the vehicle has an unusual two-seat design: occupants sit in tandem much like on a motorcycle, but the driver has a steering wheel. The vehicle will be equipped with three airbags, seatbelts and designed with an interior roll cage for additional protection, Sheltrown said.
Sheltrown, who was joined at the committee meeting by Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover and Caddo Parish CEO Woodrow Wilson Jr., said the company is looking to head into production by June 2014.
The company expects to employ about 1,500 people and generate about $1.3 million in taxes, Wilson said.
The vehicle, with a top speed of 107 mph, has a starting price tag of $6,800 and has estimated fuel efficiency of 84 mph on the highway, Sheltrown said.
The Phoenix-based company moved to Louisiana earlier this year to open its first manufacturing location and received a tax incentive package from the state that includes a yearly payroll rebate of 13 percent for the first 10 years of plant operations.
Elio Motors will occupy about a quarter of the 4-million-square-foot facility in Shreveport and city officials expect other tenants will be found to lease the rest of the plant.