Local Motors, the first open source car to hit production

Chris Anderson visited the plant and has new details about this landmark project.

However, before you get too enthusiastic, also read the debunking article by Joel Johnson, here. The essential thesis is that all these distributed manufacturing efforts are all still in the hobbyist sphere, while in real manufacturing, it’s still ‘business as usual’.

Excerpt from Chris Anderson:

“Local Motors, the first open source car company to reach production. Step inside and the office reveals itself as a mind-blowing example of the power of micro-factories.

In June, Local Motors will officially release the Rally Fighter, a $50,000 off-road (but street-legal) racer. The design was crowdsourced, as was the selection of mostly off-the-shelf components, and the final assembly will be done by the customers themselves in local assembly centers as part of a “build experience.” Several more designs are in the pipeline, and the company says it can take a new vehicle from sketch to market in 18 months, about the time it takes Detroit to change the specs on some door trim. Each design is released under a share-friendly Creative Commons license, and customers are encouraged to enhance the designs and produce their own components that they can sell to their peers.

The Rally Fighter was prototyped in the workshop at the back of the Wareham office, but manufacturing muscle also came from Factory Five Racing, a kit-car company and Local Motors investor located just down the road. Of course, the kit-car business has been around for decades, standing as a proof of concept for how small manufacturing can work in the car industry. Kit cars combine hand-welded steel tube chassis and fiberglass bodies with stock engines and accessories. Amateurs assemble the cars at their homes, which exempts the vehicles from many regulatory restrictions (similar to home-built experimental aircraft). Factory Five has sold about 8,000 kits to date.

While the community crafted the exterior, Local Motors designed or selected the chassis, engine, and transmission thanks to relationships with companies like Penske Automotive Group, which helped the firm source everything from dashboard dials to the new BMW clean diesel engine the Rally Fighter will use. This combination — have the pros handle the elements that are critical to performance, safety, and manufacturability while the community designs the parts that give the car its shape and style — allows crowdsourcing to work even for a product whose use has life-and-death implications.

Local Motors plans to release between 500 and 2,000 units of each model. It’s a niche vehicle; it won’t compete with the major automakers but rather fill in the gaps in the marketplace for unique designs. Rogers uses the analogy of a jar of marbles, each of which represents a vehicle from a major automaker. In between the marbles is empty space, space that can be filled with grains of sand — and those grains are Local Motors cars.

Local Motors has just 10 full-time employees (that number will grow to more than 50 as it opens build centers, the first of which will be in Phoenix), holds almost no inventory, and purchases components and prepares kits only after buyers have made a down payment and reserved a build date.”

Joel’s counterpoint:

It’s great that hobbyists can make ever more complex items, sell them on the internet, and have a small business. But the same process used by Aliph to manufacturer Bluetooth headsets (and bear in mind it takes 80 people just to coordinate this!) is exactly the same outsourcing process used by Apple to make iPhones. But the difference between an Apple or a Sony versus a Brickarms or a Local Motors is vast, both in ancillary services offered like warrantees or technical support, to the only metric by which any industrial revolution can be measured: profit.

1 Comment Local Motors, the first open source car to hit production

  1. AvatarJoe Rinehart

    While I hear Joel Johnson’s point about the relative amounts of labor needed to produce each type of product it is surprising that he follows it up with the simplistic swipe about the only measure of success being “profit”. Those types of critics have been fairly well debunked in the software P2P community, hopefully we won’t have to debunk them all again in the manufacturing P2P revolution. Though it does raise the good point of needing to develop more signifigant sources of community based and patient capital.

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