SEMA News - August 2010

By Steve Campbell
Photography Courtesy Local Motors

Local Motors Pairs Limited Production With Unlimited Potential

  SEMA News-August 2010-Business 
 

With styling cues and an aggressive attitude reminiscent of a P-51 Mustang, the Local Motors Rally Fighter has the muscular image off-road enthusiasts love. That stands to reason, given that so many of them participated in its open design.  

   
The concepts aren’t totally new to the automotive world: Get a group of designers together, brainstorm a vehicle concept, noodle out the financing, then sell every unit the market will bear. All a car company has to do is pick the right designers who develop the right concept that can be produced at the right cost for the right group of consumers. But that’s a whole lot of uncertainty, and the most common result is compromise after compromise, resulting in a bland vehicle for the masses.  John B. Rogers Jr. had a different idea. He decided that customers should design and develop the cars his company would help create. He also figured that there was no reason to start from scratch on every component part. Great engines, suspension systems, body pieces and interior components already existed throughout both the traditional tier-supplier network as well as in the specialty-equipment aftermarket. If his community of designer/builders tracked down the best of what was already on the shelves and used just-in-time delivery, he reasoned that they could avoid a whole slew of inventory and manufacturing headaches.

Rogers established his unique car company under the banner of Local Motors in 2007, based on the concept of open sourcing and open design. He developed a website where he held a series of contests to solicit vehicle concepts from a quickly burgeoning community of artists, car enthusiasts and designers. Then he allowed that same community—augmented by more and more users as the site and the intended project became more well-known—to vote on which designs should be pursued.

  SEMA News-August 2010-Business 
 

Local Motors founder John B. Rogers Jr. holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton, an MBA from Harvard and an honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps, where his duty stations included a tour as an infantry company commander in Iraq.  

   
“Local Motors routinely shares the development of car designs chosen by the community,” Rogers said. “We share this open development so that our community can co-create the cars with us. We also share the production data—chassis, body, build sequences—so that our customers and community can design and build aftermarket components that actually fit the vehicle. We choose to work with top-caliber parts manufacturers and, for the sake of our community, we tend to work with those manufacturers who are also willing to share their data.”

The commercial and intellectual properties of Local Motors products and those of its suppliers are fully protected, Rogers noted. Local Motors promotes Creative Commons licensing  to protect its community of contributors while encouraging collaboration.

“We utilize a license called ‘Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike,’” Rogers said. “Our community is highly visual, and this license allows them to download a car design by a peer, sketch over it to express suggested changes and then share it with the community. But everyone must include the original designer’s name on the sketch-over, and they know that they cannot try to sell work that belongs to someone else. In effect, this has created the first real protection for intellectual property in transportation design and those wishing to engage in an open sharing of ideas.”

         
         
   

For more information on Local Motors, visit booth #24501 in the Racing & Performance section at the 2010 SEMA Show or contact Sarah Stokes, CSO at sstokes@local-motors.com or 480/371-6797.    

   
         
         
Rogers is as well-versed in the concepts of intellectual property and patents as he is attuned to car design. He holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton University and an MBA from Harvard. Lest you think he’s strictly a bookworm, however, be advised that he also spent six years in the Marine Corps between obtaining his undergraduate and graduate degrees, and part of that service was as an infantry company commander in Iraq. He also augmented his education through personal investigation within the automotive world. Given his vision for a small company, he pursued targeted guidance as well as real-world assistance from one of the leaders in the specialty-vehicle field: Factory Five Racing. Founded by brothers Mark and Dave Smith, Factory Five has been manufacturing component car kits since its inception in 1985.

“We get contacted all the time by guys who want to start car companies,” said Mark Smith. “When Rogers first called, he was kind of lost in the mix. We never got back to him because he was just another guy who wanted to start a car company. But a relative knew about him and told me that I should see what he had to say because he was a great guy. I did, and we eventually let him set up in a small building that we owned. Two of our engineers, Dave Riha and Mike Pisani, also went to work for Local Motors. With that building, two engineers and his idea, he was off and running.”

Smith said that the true strength of the Local Motors business model is that it uses “wild concepts from guys who are artists rather than car guys.” The Rally Fighter is a perfect example, he said. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for enthusiasts who want a unique type of vehicle, it’s fabulous.

  SEMA News-August 2010-Business 
 

The Rally Fighter is designed to fit the BMW M57, GM LS3 and Mercedes BluTech, and the suspension includes a Fox Racing Shox package that is typical of the care with which components are selected for Local Motors vehicles.  

   
The Rally Fighter was originally designed by Local Motors community member Sangho Kim of Pasadena, California, but more than 150 people contributed to its development and design. Some simply voted yes or no when an idea was proposed, Rogers said, and some did sketches to suggest new profile details or fender treatments. Others went as far as designing the entire interior or side vents or light bars.

“We had competition challenges to design unique parts of the Rally Fighter,” he said. The competitions were incentivized with cash prizes that ranged from $1,500–$20,000. The community also took part in sourcing components, and even when the company developed the primary selection list, the community chose which parts were actually fitted to the vehicle. The tooling used includes some high-tech appliances such as 3-D printers and scanners, but most of the equipment is standard fare. “We push very hard in our development process to reduce the use of complex machinery and the number of steps,” Rogers said. “For example, only two parts of the Rally Fighter require machine work. All of the other parts are off the shelf.”

In final trim, the Rally Fighter features a welded steel tubular space frame with lightweight thermoplastic and carbon-fiber body panels, and the suspension delivers 20 in. of travel. The beta car is fitted with a BMW M57 clean diesel engine that delivers 265 hp and, more importantly for off-road use, 425 lb.-ft. of torque. Rogers said that other Local Motors vehicles may be set up with Mercedes BlueTEC diesel or GM LS3 engines. The Fox Racing Shox shock absorber package on the Rally Fighter is typical of the care with which components are selected for Local Motors vehicles.

  SEMA News-August 2010-Business 
 

The total build run for the Rally Fighter is slated for only 2,000 units. That exclusivity—and the fact that the buyer actually takes part in the vehicle’s assembly—is part of the Local Motors mystique.   

   

“We’re a vehicle dynamics and suspension solutions company,” said Ross McNab, senior project engineer at Fox. “We work with different customers to try to find solutions to their problems, and we specifically selected the four shock absorbers for the Rally Fighter. They use a patented internal-bypass system that gives position-sensitive damping in a single coil-over shock and provides damping as a function of both velocity and position. For small-amplitude inputs, there is less damping; on larger inputs, the shocks deliver a lot more damping to help prevent bottoming out.”

Local Motors doesn’t make many of its own components, preferring to use high-quality, vetted, federally compliant components from companies such as Hella, Ri-Tar Enterprises, Uni-grip, StanPro, 3M and others. Rogers said that more than 100 companies supplied hardware for the Rally Fighter.

Another unique aspect of the Local Motors business model is their assembly facilities and personnel. The just-in-time component deliveries eliminate most waste, and each customer actually participates in the building of his or her vehicle.

“We’re also going to create a marketplace on our website for component manufacturers who want to sell items they design specifically for the Rally Fighter,” Rogers said. “It will look much like an applications store for the iPhone, but it will feature the Rally Fighter and awesome parts instead of apps.”

The estimated price for a Rally Fighter is $50,000.

While Rogers’ open sourcing business model is an important feature to industry insiders, it’s not the most crucial aspect for those potential buyers, according to Factory Five’s Smith.

“Nobody cares whether Microsoft Windows came from a thousand people or from one guy,” he said. “People want great cars and a great experience. What’s going to drive the value proposition is actually delivering on the crowd-source concept. I believe Local Motors is doing that.”

 

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