The Rally Fighter is the first vehicle to be created collaboratively by an online community of designers. We talk to Jay Rogers, the co-founder of Local Motors, about his revolutionary approach to automobile design.
At a time when the American automobile industry is at crisis point, a new car manufacturer is on the up with a pioneering design and production process. Local Motors invites members of its online community to submit car designs, which are then voted for and commented on by the website’s 3000 followers. The final design is then produced at a “micro-factory” where the car’s buyer is invited to customize the vehicle in a last collaborative effort. Its first model, the Rally Fighter, has just gone into production.
The story behind the creation of the Rally Fighter is unique. Local Motors first set a brief for a car that would be used as a desert racer. (Targeting specific and niche automobile markets is part of the company’s mission). Members of www.local-motors.com submitted sketches and commented on the competing designs, and based on this, a design by Sangho Kim of Pasadena, California, was selected. As at other important parts of the design stage, Kim was awarded a cash prize of $10,000 for his winning entry.
Kim’s design then entered an invite-only section of the website, where each part of the off-roader was refined by the Local Motors Design Team in collaboration with the online community. Lights, wheels, exterior artwork, and interiors were just some of the aspects that members of the network could influence. Now that the final design has been built, orders are being taken for the model which will be limited to 3,000 units and costs $50,000.
As well as revolutionizing the way cars are designed, Local Motors also plans on an innovative production process consisting of 25-50 “micro factories” across America. The first of these will be in Phoenix, Arizona, and will create 50 new jobs. Smaller build operations makes it possible to customize each car while it is on the factory floor and Local Motors customers are encouraged to take part in this process. The idea is that by buying a Local Motors car you are also buying an experience.
As we showcase the final design of the Rally Fighter alongside sketches of its various design stages, we talk to Jay Rogers, the co-founder of Local Motors, about his radical approach to automobile design and manufacturing.
Jay Rogers, Co-founder of Local Motors
What is your definition of luxury?
Enjoyment of time, place, memory, or object without regard to time, or expense. One notable exception is that hedonism borders on luxury, with a primary distinction being that hedonism seems to entail being without regard for consequence.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
Marjorie Merriweather Post's Jewelry Collection, including the Hope Diamond.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
The Breakers in Newport, RI. Front loggia overlooking the sea.
If luxury moment, when would it be?
A weekend stay at San Simeon - Heart Castle (William Randolph Hearst's home above San Luis Obispo, CA) in the 1920's when the other guests were Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
King Priam of Troy.
What did you hope to accomplish by manufacturing a car that was designed by an online social community?
We did not start with this intent. The scalable micro-factory concept was developed prior to the co-creation aspect, which has truly become an incredible asset. When you allow people to participate in the process they become engaged and invested; they care about the end result of their own personal effort. Local Motors is not a big company without a face, we are compatriots to our community. Starting a community was a natural response to realizing the need for niche vehicles. We realized that our ability to predict "winners" was nothing compared to what a community could deliver. We realized that our ideas, no matter how good, would not be exactly what our customers want unless we communicate with our customers and learn their desires.
Apart from the actual process, were there any other differences in employing an online social community rather than a traditional design team?
Yes! In every way. Traditional design operates in a top-down method where lead designers and CEO's lead the way. Our community leads the way. We help focus efforts, but the community leads. The traditional design studios are secretive, we share as much as possible. They are required to design largely for the masses due to economies of scale, we focus on smaller niche groups, which gives us more freedom to bring exciting designs to market. We don't have to water them down to make them more largely accepted. The process is actually much the same as a traditional design team in that we go from concept to development to prototype to production-ready. But we do every step in a very different way than traditional design teams. The results are different too - we don't guess what our customers want, we know because they tell us.
Who were the designers that took part in the Rally Fighter project? Were they design students, petrol heads, or a mixture of both?
A completely wonderful mixture. A wide variety of designers and engineers from every skill level participated. Many of our community members are neither designers nor engineers, but car lovers who want to impact the cars on the road and choose the designs they will drive.
In terms of the desires of buyers of cars, what were the most surprising discoveries you made during the Rally Fighter project?
There are so many discoveries to note. The understanding of niche marketing power and the lack of it in the auto industry was well understood prior to the Rally Fighter project. Here are a few things we learned that were surprising:
• We learned that the off-road market has grown 400% in the last 10 years.
• We learned that there were few, if any, production ready off-roaders with serious capability in the dirt, with also efficient on-road ability.
• We learned that our growing community of off-road enthusiasts craved a vehicle like this.
It was fortuitous that designers were so excited to participate in this project; because the idea was fresh, it was fun.
You have also spoken of your desire to revolutionize the build process of cars - tell us about this.
Our build process is customer-inclusive, or rather, customer-driven. Our customers join us in the Local Motors Micro-Factory for two 3-day weekends. With a personal Builder Trainer, they build their very own Rally Fighter. There are two trains of thought behind this new build process. On one hand, the Micro-Factory, Just-In-Time development method is incredibly sustainable and agile. But more importantly, the education and bond created between man and machine during the build process is truly revolutionary. Your car is more than an object or a tool, it is an experience you will continue to enjoy. It is a point of pride and the beginning of enormous possibility.
What has been the reaction to your design process from traditional car manufacturers?
Interest certainly. We are in a different "playing field" so to speak, and do not consider the large car companies competition, so they are very aware of our methods. We notice that even larger manufacturers are beginning to follow our lead in some ways.
The Rally Fighter is just the first of a whole programme of cars that will be designed by Local Motors’ online design community. What type of cars are you now working on and what do you hope for from the results?
Our community has submitted well over 40,000 unique designs to this community in only the last year. There is much potential! There are about a dozen top designs which are the leaders for future Local Motors builds, meaning, these are the cars we will likely bring to market. As for the results, each vehicle aims to be the most efficient in its class, and certainly we will aim for each vehicle to fill the void of an underserved market. Do I need to say it should be world-class design? Every single car should be a head-turner, a love it or hate it, have-to-have-it show stopper.
You are a few steps away from building bespoke, one-off cars. Is this something you would like to move into? Do you see a market for them?
This is not our intention. Local Motors cars will be accessible to the community who helps develop them. There is likely a market for one-offs, but this is not our market nor our focus.
Car designers-in-the-making have revolutionized the world of concept cars with fantastical renderings that they post online. How are they contributing to car design in general?
They are trying, and they ought to be able to contribute much more. It is the industry that has failed these designers in making it seem that what they design is somehow automatically unbuildable. That is like saying something is guilty until proven innocent. The industry must try harder to meet the "fantastic" ambition of these car designers-in-the-making.
Do you think that design in general – including architecture – could be revolutionized by the democracy of online design communities and voting?
I think that it is one path, and perhaps the best for selling a large number of units of any item.
Are there any individual car designers whose work you particularly admire?
All of the members of our community. They are the young avant garde who have placed their craft at the feet of the unwashed masses. They are brave and bold.
What are your all-time favourite cars? Which cars do you own?
Favorites: Bugatti Type 41 "Royale" (esp chassis 41.110 Coupe Napoleon), Bugatti Type 57 Atalante, Ford GT40 (Gulf-Oil), Lamborghini LM 002 (Shah of Iran editions), Maserati Birdcage 75th Pininfarina Concept (Castriota).
Those I own: BMW 850csi #140, 1971 Mercedes 280SL (Pagoda Roof in Brown).
The Rally Fighter – Key Stats:
• Original, welded steel tubular space frame with lightweight thermoplastic and carbon fiber body panels.
• BMW M57 clean diesel engine.
• 36mpg on the highway, or 30mpg in an off-road setting.
• 425 lb-ft of torque, 265 horsepower, and only 3,100 lbs.
• 18" of suspension travel, to take on any desert-jumps.
• Manually adjustable dual ride-height options, to go from the desert to the city with ease.
• Seats for 4 adults, or 2 adults & 3 children.