New Car Networks News – Local Motors Wareham MA

Machine dream

For the ultimate in hands-on design, a new company in Wareham now invites you to create your own car

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By Emily Sweeney Globe Staff / February 1, 2009

Remember building model cars when you were a kid, the thrill of turning bits and pieces of plastic into a shiny hot rod or sleek muscle machine, customized just the way you wanted it? Remember wishing you could build a real car the same way?

$1.2 billion
Estimated cost of building a traditional car manufacturing facility

$5 million
Estimated cost of building a Local Motors microfactory

25
Number of microfactories Local Motors would like to build in 5 to 10 years

2,000
Number of vehicles each Local Motors microfactory would produce annually

Local Motors Inc., a new manufacturing outfit in Wareham, is taking the build-your-own concept to another level in its drive to revolutionize the auto industry.

Central to this ambitious effort is the company’s website, which serves as a virtual garage. There, gearheads from around the world submit car designs, vote on their favorites, and leave valuable feedback, guiding the development process and ultimately deciding what kind of fuel-efficient vehicles Local Motors should put on the road.

The cars will be manufactured – with customer help – in what Local Motors calls “microfactories, based on the idea of microbreweries, for cars,” said John “Jay” B. Rogers Jr., the fresh-faced, Ivy League-educated Marine veteran who serves as president and CEO.

“We’re like Ikea,” said Rogers, 35, who lives in Marion. “You come as a customer, and you pick the car that you want to buy. You take it for a test drive around this little track. Then you . . . come back and you build your car with us, on the line.”

Customers won’t have to assemble their cars on their own; trained professionals will assist them through the whole process. Rogers estimates it would take less than four days – or two weekend visits – for a car to be built, from start to finish.

By inviting people to take part in the production process, Local Motors aims to educate consumers by allowing them to “experience the birth of their car.”

“Make the customer more involved, and they’ll also be able to enjoy their car purchase more,” said Rogers, “and be a better steward of their car.”

This untraditional approach to designing and manufacturing cars has several advantages, according to Rogers. Unlike big automakers, which produce vehicles in mass quantities, Local Motors will manufacture cars on a per-order basis, so they’ll never have to deal with excess inventory.

Local Motors will be able to take advantage of cutting-edge technology that isn’t available to large auto makers, by using parts from smaller companies and suppliers (like a battery manufacturer in Hopkinton, for example) who make innovative products but don’t have the capacity to produce enough volume for Detroit’s Big Three.

And instead of offering one-size-fits-all vehicles, Local Motors, which set up shop in the Wareham Industrial Park in 2007, will design different styles of cars for specific parts of the country, and those cars will be produced locally.

“Local Motors is not about being in one place, it’s about being in lots of individual places,” said Rogers.

The concept of Local Motors goes back a few years, to when Rogers was pursuing his MBA at Harvard Business School, after spending six years in the Marine Corps, which included time in Iraq. Rogers and his Harvard classmate Jeffrey Robert Jones started brainstorming about launching a new kind of car company in 2006. The following year, they had developed a business plan and cofounded Local Motors. When Jones decided to go back to school for his doctorate, Rogers pressed forward, building Local Motors into a viable enterprise.

Local Motors raised about $4 million from 30 different investors, opened its Wareham headquarters in September 2007, and launched its website (www.local-motors.com) in March 2008.

Since then, more than 1,600 car enthusiasts and designers – from 118 different countries – have joined the Local Motors online community. They’ve submitted more than 21,000 designs and left countless comments and invaluable feedback.

Production of the first Local Motors vehicle is already underway. The Rally Fighter is a “performance, off-road, desert-racing rally coupe” that was designed by Sangho Kim, a student studying transportation design at Art Center College of Design in California.

The first model is scheduled to be finished this spring. It will be priced at about $50,000. The Rally Fighter, said Rogers, “is speaking to everybody who lives in Vegas, Phoenix, LA, San Diego, who go to Baja to race the Baja 1000, who do the Vegas Torino Challenge, or who just go out on the weekends with their kids.”

The Local Motors community voted the “Boston Bullet” as the top design for Boston. It would seat three passengers and have two electric motors and a transparent roof and fenders. It was designed by Mihai Panaitescu, a Romanian design student studying in Italy. He won $2,000 and bragging rights on the Local Motors site and stands to earn an additional $10,000 if and when the first Bullet is built.

The Bullet and the cars that follow should have more affordable price tags than the Rally Fighter, Rogers said.

Local Motors has 10 employees, and in the next five to 10 years, Rogers hopes to have 25 microfactories up and running. It’s an ambitious plan, but the aspiring auto maker has won the support of many and has an impressive team of advisors that includes Karim R. Lakhani, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School.

“I was impressed by [Jay’s] ambition and his vision, and over time I was impressed with his ability to deliver and reach all the milestones he’s set for himself,” said Lakhani.

Lakhani said community-based development has long been used to create open-source software and is now being incorporated by Web 2.0 businesses such as Threadless.com, a company that makes T-shirts based on designs that are submitted and rated by the public. With Local Motors, Rogers is taking that strategy of community-based development to another level, according to Lakhani.

“There’s a wide distribution of talent and knowledge all over the world. Jay’s tapping into that.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com.

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