Is this a glimpse of the future?
Detroit without Detroit?
Local Motors outsources the design task (in this case to Mihai Panaitescu), builds variations on to a single chassis (in this case from BMW) and invites consumers to come to the plant (in Massachusetts) and help build the car.
Customization, local content, consumer participation (aka cocreation), these things are now happening everywhere in Western economies. But it looked as if certain industries would remain locked in the old world of mass and mono manufacture. Any industry that is capital intensive, constrained by government requirement, and engaged in a complex production process…surely this would continue to make product the old fashioned way.
Enter Local Motors
In the FAQ, Local Motors asks this question:
How does Local Motors intend to build and sell cars? Doesn’t this cost hundreds of millions of dollars?
To compete with the major auto manufacturers, it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. However, we do not intend to compete with them in terms of size or mass appeal. Our focus is specifically car enthusiasts and design lovers. We intend a simpler product and a lower volume. You might ask then why customers will pay for that simplicity, and we would answer that the specialized local nature of the business is meant to make up for that differentiation. We are ALL ABOUT bringing the fun of cars back to people’s hometown. Think of Micro-Beer for cars or Organic Food markets. What would you pay more for: a generic beer purchased at a 7-11, or a custom Micro-Brew? Where would you rather shop: an Organic Food Market with local produce, or a Supermarket Chain? The products at these types of local places are simpler and created with less manufacturing complexity, though they cost more because they are special and lower volume. Therefore, we do not intend to create a large OEM only to sell cars through dealerships. Volume is not our thing.
The strategy here is interesting, micro manufacture, niche markets, branding by location, making locality the basis of product variation. It’s all about going intensive where cars have traditionally been extensive. "Volume is not our thing."
The FAQ then asks:
How will Local Motors sell cars?
Cars will be sold from specialized facilities distributed across the United States. These local facilities will not only stimulate local economies, they will be a source of pride for the entire community.
Local Motors will create an aspirational experience of scarcity driven demand whereby the local factory will create a Wonka-like fascination with its products and methods. Not only will it sell its cars, but it will sell the experience of people being able to visit and watch their car being "born."
Now, the factory, long the guilty, throw-a-tarp-on-it, or at least put it on the edge of town, is now one of the sites of meaning manufacture. Whether Local Motors can actually capture Wonka-like fascination remains to be seen, but perhaps for car enthusiasts and design lovers, this is not so hard. In any case, the process of meaning manufacture is as different here as is the process of physical manufacture.
Clearly, an exercise like this still takes lots of capital. But this model of car making feels like a return to the early days of the auto biz. When the game was played locally, by small players, with a massive amount of tinkering, and lots of participation from the owner. What an interesting experiment. The old dog learns new tricks.
For the Local Motors website, go here.
Thanks to Alan Moore for telling me about Local Motors this morning. See Alan’s website here.
Note: This post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle of last year. It was reposted Dec. 24, 2010. Apologies to those who left comments. Those are long lost. Sorry!