Local Motors, a global trend

Local Motors Rally Fighter carLocal Motors is car manufacturer that is, in their own words, all about next-generation, crowd-powered automotive design, manufacturing and technology to enable the creation of game-changing vehicles. This is their car and here is why it is so remarkable.

In the early 20s of the past century Ford invented the assembly line as a manufacturing process for cars. Since then there has always been a contrast between on one hand the mass producers with big factories and global brands, such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen. On the other hand there are the small specialized companies, who focus is on strictly designing cars, manufacturing special parts or small series of niche cars. In this post we will focus on the last group. When you are in the market for an exotic sports car, there are at least a dozen companies that produce small series of cars that stimulate your senses. Koenigsegg, Lotus, Pagani, Spyker and Venturi are just a few examples on a long list. Ferrari, Bentley and Lamborghini are examples of brands with similar products. The difference is that these brands belong to one of the top 5 global car manufacturers.
Small specialized companies producing small series of unorthodox cars have been here since the invention of the assembly line. Each year new ones with new brands are coming and a same number disappears. It seems like an inerasable virus that these small manufacturers are able to put out a number of cars but just as fast they run out of financial resources. The revenue stream is simply insufficient to keep the company going. Who has heard of or even remembers the Lombardi Grand Prix, Iso Grifo or the Trident Clipper from the Seventies? The Midas Gold from the 80s, Mega Tjaffer from the 90s? If the brand is part of a specialty unit of global manufacturer, it does not guarantee decennia long happy production either. The recent prove can be found at Daimler, owner of Mercedes-Benz, when the leadership decided to discontinue their top luxury brand Maybach, just a couple of years after the launch.

There is one thing many of these companies have in common. Because these manufactures produce cars in small series, they are highly flexible when it comes to incorporating the special demands from their customers. For example, if you are a mass producer and your factory puts out a mere 75000 cars a year, it is a costly choice to make frequent changes in the colors of the cars. A small manufacturer that puts out 50 cars a year and where a paint jobs are done by hand has no problem in offering a tailor made color to its customers. “Bespoke colors. For those who venture off piste” says the brochure of the exotic Bentley Continental W12.
For less exotic new cars personalization is most of the time limited to adding some predefined factory options or after-market accessories such as different wheels. Some brands, such Mini or Citroen on its DS line offer more personalization possibilities, but they are still predefined options. In the past decade dealerships have not had many requests for personalization options. In 2007 Kia Motors offered special decals to personalize the Picanto model. The decals could be ordered through a special section on the website and were printed at a local printer on 3M foil and then sent off to the dealer for installation. Kia Picanto stickerThe option was promoted on television and online. Although the campaign was highly successful and raised Picanto sales with a mere 20%, equaling over a 1000 cars, the number of decals that were actually ordered remained below 50. But that was 2007 and since then times have changed.
Marketers “live” on consumer insights and trends. Translating general trends into specific activities and projects for your marketing team is one of the tasks of a marketing director. They are assisted in this job by trend watchers and strategic planners. Every trend watcher takes a business, personal or other perspective to the trends they see develop in the world around them. Trendwatching.com has identified for a couple years a trend in which consumers seem to get tired of mass produced impersonal products from a huge factory in another continent. They write: Faced with universally uniform products, consumers are increasingly seeking out authentic, storied, eco-friendly products – made and consumed locally. Tired of the impersonal, throw-away, invisible nature of the global supply chain, audiences crave a stronger connection with the goods, products and services that they consume.” Consumers want to be involved in the design and production of the product they buy. This trend was identified and predicted by MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld. He is best known for his ideas on personal fabrication — small-scale manufacturing enabled by digital technologies, which gives people the tools to build literally anything they can imagine. His famous Fab Lab is immensely popular among students at MIT, who crowd Gershenfeld’s classes. But the concept is potentially life-altering in the developing world, where a Fab Lab with just $20,000 worth of laser cutters, milling machines and soldering irons can transform a community, helping people harness their creativity to build tools, replacement parts and essential products unavailable in the local market.
Another step symbolizing this trend is the opening of a new site by the leading 3D printing platform Shapeways. They provide 3D printing services to its community of designers and consumers. Shapeways opened its factory in Long Island City, New York. The site will host 30 to 50 3D printers, and will have capacity to print 3 to 5 million objects annually.
So far this trend of producing technical products locally with high involvement of the buyers through a digital community seems to have passed the automotive industry. Apart from exotic cars where buyers can influence some specs, the average car buyer has no say in the design of the car, choosing his own specifications to the detail. Using crowd sourcing to design a car is just not something for mass manufacturers. Until now…..
Local Motors has created a concept by which buyers can create their own cars in small local factories. By using digital technology people can custom build a car. The video explains the whole concept.

Although one can critize the concept that it is not 100% open source, it proves that a Fab Lab or Shapeways for the automotive industry is nearer than the general public might think. The general trend of personally designed and locally produced products as a counterweight for ones that are mass produced in an overseas country will and cannot be ignored by the automotive industry. It might even be the key for small manufacturers to spread their knowledge and make their brand and cars widely available and ensure new sources of income and financial stability.

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