Building and modifying automobiles has been a national pastime since the Duryea brothers set up the first American car manufacturing company. For some, the hobby becomes an obsession. Watch the movie La Mission, which is about a group of low-rider enthusiasts whose automotive design creations are really works of art, or check out Houston’s Art Car Parade to see how far these car enthusiasts can take a project.
For decades, these automotive design projects started with an existing automobile or motorcycle and then, let the modifications begin. What began in the 1940s and ’50s as hot rods, jalopies and roadsters, with modified engines and cut up bodies, became dune buggies, muscle cars and low riders of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Our fascination with the automobile has never ended. But our tools have changed.
Local Motors’ Rally Fighter is an open source production vehicle.
Innovation Enabled by Technology
In this issue, Susan Smith is covering KOR EcoLogics. Its Urbee is the first vehicle prototype to have its entire body 3D printed. The Urbee gets around 150 mpg. While I don’t think I would drive that car down my 3.5-mile dirt road in mud season, I sure wouldn’t mind driving the Local Motors Rally Fighter car home.
What a concept Local Motors has: car design by crowdsourcing. You join the membership of Local Motors, then you present your design. The membership consists of people in all walks of life, from car enthusiasts to interested engineers, to people in the automobile industry. You can submit your concepts in 3D CAD models or 2D drawings, or even artistic renderings. With the help of the crowd, your design can be completed. If your concept is voted to one of the top positions, then you can invite a few of your friends over on a weekend and build it — kind of like one of those brew-your-own beer places, except on steroids. Check out the video here. And let’s not forget Tesla Motors, the up and coming success in the electric vehicle market. I mean wow, who wouldn’t want to at least rent one of their roadsters for a week?
DE’s Art Director, Darlene Sweeney (left), poses on her 1964 Thunderbird with her friend Debbie Davidson.
Big Ideas Start Small
There are a lot of people who are thinking small when it comes to automotive manufacturing. And I believe this will create some new, innovative designs in the near future. Startup automotive businesses don’t have the problems the industry giants have. First, major automotive has to design to sell to the mass market. The design that sells 50,000 units a year would be a flop. Tesla or KOR EcoLogics would be ecstatic with those sales numbers.
Also, with a small automotive startup, the consumer isn’t paying for all the overhead major automotive has acquired over the years. Small means designs can be innovative in the extreme. While Local Motors uses readily available parts, from engines to wheels, the vehicle is custom built to a unique design. The frame body and suspension are custom built. But, more importantly, the complete car is built to its purpose.
Will all cars be locally built? I doubt it. But I think this is a great idea and will grow. I also think, with the technology we have now and with future advances, it will make more sense to manufacture some products locally, restoring parts of our manufacturing base.
No, the big auto companies aren’t going away, but my bet is on innovation and passion. The day is coming when you will be able to design your own furniture, or cell phone, and have it manufactured for yourself. Anheuser Busch might have laughed at the idea of someone becoming their own brewmaster, but the personal statement your label on a bottle of beer makes has created a booming business.
I have an idea what my perfect car might be. Who knows? The old Volvo has 130k on its odometer.
Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subject to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.