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Local Motors Makes Cars The C.O.O.L. Way

Breaking News

Local Motors has a unique concept for both how they design vehicles and how they manufacture and sell them to consumers. Their first design, the Rally Fighter, has sold over 70 units so far and is currently on a tour of North America to promote the unique concept behind Local Motors.
local motors rally fighter
images courtesy of Local Motors ™

by Aaron Turpen

Specs:

  • Type: Off-Road Rally
  • Class: 2-seat Rally Car
  • Manufacturer: Local Motors
  • Propulsion system: Clean Diesel
  • Fuel(s): Diesel, B85
  • Price: $50,000 (base)
  • Availability: June 2010

The manufacturer says

"Local Motors is setting a course to revolutionize the way cars are designed and built. Through an open, local, customer-inclusive design and build experience we're building cars people actually want, and want to keep - because they built it. We always say we're here to make C.O.O.L. cars: Community, Opensource, Ownership Experiences, and Local."

Overview

The Rally Fighter is Local Motors' first vehicle design that is currently being manufactured and is an excellent example of the company's mission and process in action. The manufacturing process and the business model behind Local Motors is really where the company gets interesting.

Designed by Sangho Kim, a member of the Local Motors Community, the car is based loosely on the P-51 fighter plane and is an off road, dune-running rally car. Hence it is being built in Arizona, where it is closest to the action, though Local Motors also builds them in Boston at their headquarters for those who live nearer to that region. Starting to see something interesting there?

There's more. The Rally Fighter uses an engine, wheels, body components, and more from any of about a dozen manufacturers. Tail lights by Honda Civic, door handles by Mazda Miata, engine by BMW, and more.

Boston Bullet

The company is not an auto manufacturer or design firm in the normal sense. The designs they have, which include the headline-grabbing Boston Bullet by Mihai Panatescu from last year, is one of several designs, including the Rally, that have won crowd-sourcing design contests through the community of designers and innovators at Local Motors. About 4,000 of them at last count, in fact.

These designers compete for prizes by submitting designs that are chosen and voted on not by Local Motors staff, but by other members of the community. Designs such as the Green Apple and the Miami Roadster have been past winners, with literally dozens of designs being showcased on the site and being discussed, tweaked, and otherwise submitted to crowd-source rigors.

Manufacturing is similarly region-based. Since the Rally Fighter is a southwest concept, it will be built primarily in Arizona while other concepts, such as the Green Apple, would be built in their area (in this case New York).

The actual building of the vehicle is another interesting backdrop to the company's profile. Unlike most car makers, when you order a Local Motors car, you purchase not only the vehicle, but the ability to go to the regional manufacturing hub and put your hands into the building process. This allows buyers to not only be more involved, but to even bring their own parts ñ say the stereo from your old car, or a set of wheels and tires you just have to have on your new ride.

The company's founder, John B. Rogers, came up with the idea for Local Motors while serving in Iraq as a Marine in 2004. He decided that the old way of manufacturing, with all of its costs and its cookie-cutter approach, only works for some types of consumer vehicles. For everyone else, there are few (if any) choices.

Rather than working against major automakers, however, Rogers envisions working with them and their suppliers. Hence the heavy use of commonly-available parts from various vehicles in the design of the Rally Fighter. Rogers likens this to a jar full of marbles.

The marbles are vehicle markets: compacts, SUVs, sedans, and so forth. In between those marbles, however, are empty spaces that represent markets the major auto manufacturers miss because they are viewed as too small. That's where Local Motors comes in. They fill those gaps by providing a means for small manufacturers, parts suppliers, and the major automakers to get into those missed niches without going through the huge development and manufacturing process normally associated with car making.

In fact, the cars can be built in micro-factories without a lot of tooling required, since most of the parts are off-the-shelf rather than requiring custom manufacturing. They could even, conceivably, be sold as kit cars for home builders to put together in their own garage.

Rogers says that the largest problem facing his company is not other auto manufacturers, but is actually government rules and regulations covering the automotive sector. Traditionally, it takes years and millions of dollars to get a vehicle approved for on-road use nationally.

His challenge, he says, is bringing bringing cars to market in a sustainable manner. Bringing the cars people want, where they want, and when they want. That is what Local Motors wants to accomplish.

Questions and Answers with Local Motors

We interviewed Ariel Ferreira of Local Motors pubic relations to get some direct answers to questions about the company and its products.

We asked how Local Motors is overcoming the Department of Transportation's hurdles for federal highway safety standards requirements (crash testing and other expensive, time-consuming requirements for new vehicles). This, in FutureCars' mind, is the largest roadblock to newcomers like Local Motors.

Ariel's Response: The Rally Fighter is street legal and registered under the Custom Vehicle umbrella on a state-by-state basis. Since the Rally Fighter is a safe vehicle built with FMVSS [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards] in mind, and since it exceeds EPA standards, it is road-ready. But youre right that it is an off-road vehicle at its core.

The process will be the same for the Boston Bullet and the Green Apple (should they reach production!). We will build safe, efficient vehicles which will be registered as custom vehicles.

We then asked what Local Motors' plans are for their next vehicle and whether they've made inroads in getting some of the established major players in automotive on board with their ideas. Our example was an idea of including a Ford EcoBoost power train in a vehicle community-designed by Local Motors enthusiasts.

Ariel's Response: Ah, great question! We hope to announce the next vehicle development process and build in the next year. We do not yet know which vehicle design it will be - nor do we know which components it will entail. We will make it very public that it is time for the next vehicle, and I hope you'll participate in the choosing process - vote for the car you love. Your suggestion of the Ford EcoBoost is a good one and demonstrates the power of the community. We need to say "This is what I want!" so we can make it happen.

What we like

The Concept of Local Motors is probably exactly what is needed in car manufacturing right now: a total re-think of the way we build and distribute huge numbers of cars around the globe, usually at great cost in terms of resources and money.

Unique Concepts from the company and especially from its community of designers and critics. Some of the ideas coming out of the Local Motors Community are the best concepts we've seen in some time.

What we don't

Legal Hurdles are definitely the hardest thing for this company to overcome and will not make it easy to get their cars to market, driving up costs and problems. It's this writer's opinion that the entire DOT regulation system needs an overhaul to bring it up to date from the 1950s where it seems to still be stuck.

Conclusions

The Rally Fighter and other concepts from Local Motors, as well as the company's mission itself, are quite unique and extraordinarily on-par with the way markets seem to be going in today's world. More and more are moving towards regional and locally-based concepts as communications and technology begin to allow an easy focus from global to local. It's only a matter of time before cars will have to follow suit.

This site follows the emergence, application and development of transportation innovation. Reference to manufacturers, makes and models, and other automotive-related businesses are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement by FutureCars.com.

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