“Direct digital manufacturing [also known as 3-D printing] is the future of the automotive industry,” said John "Jay" Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, as he was making a splash at the Detroit Auto Show by building a printed car right there in front of the world’s press.
Princeton/Harvard graduate Rogers, quite intense in person, seems to be a guy in a hurry. A former Marine company commander, he has been a McKinsey consultant, an investment analyst at Ewing and Partners, a partner in a startup medical device company in China, and a philanthropist with the RBR Foundation. But he’s definitely a car guy, having driven a Dodge Viper R/T 10 and now a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL. And he says he’s “hell-bent” to be a disruptive force in how automobiles get made.
The stage-built car, the carbon-fiber Strati, is a bit rough around the edges, and don’t expect airbags — it’s not highway capable, and the top speed is 25 mph. But Local Motors, best known for crowdsourcing its designs (including off-road racers called Rally Fighters) and having them improved with input from multiple global contributors, is now moving a step forward to becoming a real car company.
According to spokesman Adam Kress, the Strati was just a proof-of-concept car to demonstrate that 3-D printed cars are possible. But Local Motors says it’s serious about producing road-ready automobiles, and it just released images of the Reload Redacted Swim/Sport, two variations of a contest-winning design by contributor Kevin Lo. The company says it will have a running version by this September; delivery of low-speed customer versions (35 mph or less) for closed communities and the like by the first quarter of next year ($18,000 to $30,000); and a “fully homologated, highway-ready” vehicle later in 2016.The "Swim" and the "Sport" are distinct iterations, and quite arresting in appearance — dune buggy meets Blade Runner.
My guess is that Local Motors is going to learn the Tesla Lesson about how much time it takes to get a crash-tested, fully federally certified vehicle to market, but let’s offer multiple cheers for effort and innovation here. The Local Motors business plan is more Silicon Valley than it is Detroit, but there’s nothing wrong with that — Tesla and Apple are presumably following the same path as they try to field self-driving cars.
Kress said that the road-worthy Reload Redacted will be “inspired” by Lo’s design, but will benefit from a lot of input from the company’s co-creation communities. It will “likely” be an electric car (the neighborhood car definitely will be), with “battery technology that will usurp anything on the road today,” Kress said.
Lo’s design includes speakers mounted in the outer skin (of indeterminate composition at this point) so that the driver could share his/her sounds at beach parties and the like. “It’s not for blasting music on the morning commute or anything like that. It was a unique idea that appealed to our judges,” Kress said.
Local Motors is evolving local micro-factories to produce its cars. The Reload is to be built at such a facility in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Rogers currently lives. There are also micro-factories in the Phoenix, and Tempe, Arizona metro areas and Berlin, Germany. A sales and demonstration facility is set to open this November at National Harbor in Baltimore. “We expect to have our cars there, running people around,” Kress said.
Here's video of the Strati being built in Detroit — in four days:
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