Local Motors Tackles Carbon Crisis with Lightweight, Crowdsourced Cars

12/18/08Follow @wroush

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Indian Chief motorcycle and pulled up next to someone else on an Indian, we’d instantly be going for coffee together. We want that to happen for our company.”

But if people don’t happen to fall for Local Motors’ first batch of cars, it won’t be nearly as big a disaster as it is when consumers turn away from Detroit’s models. “The whole point is to learn early whether people like our product or not,” Rogers says. If they don’t, the drawing board is only a click away.

And assuming the question of style can be successfully answered, what about safety? Local Motors doesn’t plan to spend tens of millions of dollars on crash testing and safety certification, the way the big car companies do. Though most consumers don’t realize it, Rogers explains, the government does not impose crash safety standards; carmakers are largely free to self-certify their vehicles. So in the end, he says, safety is about trust. “The American public has effectively said that if you know how to build your own car, we will let you put it on the road. When people buy Factory Five kit cars they know full well that these are not federally tested cars, but they have seen people crash in them at 200 miles per hour and survive, and that’s good enough.” Of course, that doesn’t mean Local Motors won’t ask customers to sign comprehensive liability waivers.

Rally Fighter DesignsRogers says Local Motors has enough cash to get the Rally Fighter into production—at which point it will have a case for raising the money needed to start building the next car and establishing a network of factories. “We would like to put the first production car into the hands of a couple of customers by November of next year, and we already have people who would like to be first,” he says. “When we do deliver our first car—which we will do—it will be huge for us.”

I had lots more to ask Rogers about, but he had pressing paperwork to attend to: Local Motors is applying for part of the $25 billion in loan funding that the Department of Energy has set aside for green automotive projects. Not surprisingly, Rogers says he was glad to see the Senate kill the Detroit bailout plan negotiated by House Democrats last week, since it would have depleted the DOE’s green fund simply to help the Big Three meet their payroll. “It’s great, because we were about to pour that money into auto companies that really should be going into bankruptcy and then working their way out of it in an orderly fashion. Thankfully the $25 billion is now waiting for companies that can actually do something with it.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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