(first posted on 3/16/12. Text amended and expanded, pictures added) I am a reasonable human being and therefore I have never craved an Ellert. When this thing came out in 1987, I was eight years old and was dreaming of AMGs, Gemballa Porsches and the like. As a young Dane I was not particularly particularly proud of the Ellert being Denmark’s (practically) only contribution to the car magazines I then devoured.
But this was actually fairly close to being succesful. You see this little three-wheeler’s father, Steen Volmer Jensen (whom we met last week as well), looked at the below facts about the average working age Dane’s transportation needs:
The average Dane had 11 kilometers (7 miles) to work
80 percent of Danes had less than 15 kilometers (9 miles) to work
92 percent of people who commuted to work drove alone
50 percent of public transportation users had a car in their household
Jensen, thus saw a potential for a new type of short-range vehicle. An electric motor was ideal in the early eighties with the aftermath of the oil crises still impacting people’s mentality and the fuel prices. The short range was not a problem since the Ellert was only intended to be used for short distance commuting. A small battery pack was sufficient since it only had to propel one person to and from work.
It first came out in 1987 and was called the Mini-el. That name was later changed to El-City when Rover threatened to sue over the Mini name. The public, however, immediately dubbed it “Ellert.” A moped is “knallert” in Danish, and since this was in some ways (particularly performance-wise) a three-wheeled electric moped, it was called the Ellert.
You may have noticed I have stayed away from labeling the Ellert yet. That is due to it not really being either or in Denmark. It has status of a three-wheel motorcycle; it is neither a proper car nor a proper motorcycle. It is simply an Ellert.
When it was launched it cost 27,450 DKK which I do not know how much is adjusted but the hot version of Car of the Year in Denmark 1988, Peugeot 405 MI16, cost 253,000 DKK at the time. It was a very affordable little machine. The first models came with a Pacific Scientific motor (right) which was later replaced with a Thrige-Titan motor (left). Both pumped out a maximum of around 5 horsepower.
Since it only weighed 285 kilos (628 lbs) it had a range of 30-50 kilometers (18 – 30 miles) according to the manual. Top speed was listed at 47 kph (29 mph) for the first type and 40 kph (24 mph) for the latter.
While these were a pretty common sight in the late eighties in Denmark, there were problems with them early on (as a side note Ole Sommer, whom I have talked about in earlier installments of this series, sold Ellerts for a brief period and managed to swing 250 of them). After only 150 had been built, they were all recalled to have a stuck relay fixed after it caused one Ellert to burst into flames. When around 500 had been built they were all recalled again; a fuse could get hot and burn through a hose carrying gasses from the batteries. It caused a bang. The story in the newspapers was that an owner said his Ellert “blew up.”
At this point opinions of the Ellert were pretty low in the public. In general Danes rarely dream big, so when someone does and builds a vehicle from scratch, it is received with skepticism. If such a vehicle bursts into flames, it can ruin its future – especially when you combine our Scandinavian genes’ fondness for safety (read: Volvo and Saab). If something had to break, it had better be something that could cause no harm. Adding fuel to the fire (pun intended) gas prices plummeted through the eighties and the raison d’être for the Ellert was thus vanishing fast.
The company behind the Ellert was now on life support. It went through three bankruptcies and in 1995 the adventure was definitively over – at least in Denmark.
While its father passed away in 2011, the Ellert lives on in Germany and has done so since production shut down in Denmark in 1995. Smiles e-Mobility (http://www.smiles-world.de/konzept-cityel) still produces them there. They call it the most energy efficient production vehicle in the world. They list a lithium battery model with a top speed of 63 kph (38 mph) and a range of 100-150 kilometers (60 – 90 miles). The listed price is 13,000 USD should you fancy one.
The total production number in Denmark was around 4,000 according to the Motor Journalists’ Club Denmark. Smiles e-Mobility says 6,000 have been built. I imagine that number is the total including the 4,000 Danish Ellerts.
I can now appreciate the Ellert as a curious and ambitious vehicle which does make me smile whenever I rarely see one.Which, by the way, I did just the other day, a convertible even.