Thursday, July 31, 2008

Design Process in full swing today

Today, Design Process (the section on our website where LM Design collaborates one on one with Designers in full view of the community) was in fine form as one of our community members, djfearnley, interacted directly with LM Design to deliver a new variant of the front of one of the vehicles in Design Process.

The dialogue was fast and the sketchovers were even faster.

Keep it up folks, this is what community of design is all about.

(where LM Design kicked off the conversation).

(what LM Design got back)

(what we ended with at the end of the dialogue)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Great Prototypes - Discipline in the world of choices

There are three general anchor points of our 2 year plan on which we keep our focus: Time, Budget, and Deliverable. A common rule of thumb in facing any decision is that we can meet 2 of these guidelines but one must give. For now until the foreseeable future, we have been most intent on holding the line on Time and Budget and allowing the Deliverable goal to flex within reasonable boundaries that still meet our mission.

In order to manage this "flex" we have emphasized flexibility in our process to be able to accommodate the widest possible range of automotive design within an acceptable range of production feasibility. This flexibility is a GOOD thing.

But we have learned to be vigilant.

Take design surfacing for an example. Given relatively unlimited choice of methods from pen sketch to rapid prototype to full prototype, there is a HUGE range of tools that can be employed to deliver a resulting form. The requirement for discipline comes in having to define the deliverable that neither overshoots or undershoots the need for form so that we can, again, meet time and budget.

(, volvomax)

Basically, it comes to this: Today's tools are getting so good that there is often a temptation to reach for the end to finish a surface before it is ready to BE finished. I believe that keeping flexibility as long as possible into the process allows us to make better decisions so that when we do get to the "point of no return", we are within an acceptable margin of error.

We see this a lot also in the design work in the community. Some people want the precision of a 3D model in order to make as strong a presentation as possible; however, the progress of their form may not be complete enough to begin the 3D modeling process. Simply spending more time in the sketch phase is often the right answer in order to find the right form before progressing.

Discipline in a world of choices is a comforting way to channel the best free thinking into a prototype.

Monday, July 28, 2008

How long are you going to hold out? How many are holding out with you?

This weekend I got to talking with a Doctor who currently drives a 2000 Plymouth Voyager. He, his wife (another doctor) and their 3 kids all want to get a new vehicle, but he wants to hold out until he can get something efficient and really different. !#!$!!

(2000 Voyager,

Is it Karma that I get into these discussions? :)

So I asked the unsuspecting pediatrician, "How long did he think that he would have to hold out?"

He said, "I don't know, I would like to buy something efficient like an electric car that could fulfill the functions that I require. Not sure when that will be available. I have a need for a commuter and for a family mover. We thought about a Smart for my commuter or maybe an electric car, and we have no idea what to do to replace the minivan. I also don't want to spend a ton on service; I want something reliable."

I first asked if he knew of any electric cars that might fulfill his needs. He had heard of Tesla, but felt that it was too expensive at $110K. Beyond that he had not heard of any others.

Then I asked why he had not pulled the trigger on a Smart, to which he said that he was tempted to, but that he would also be tempted to drive it longer distances when his wife had the other car out, and he was worried that he should not make a habit of putting the Smart on the highway...."smart" doctor! :)

I believe that many many many people are in the same state of quandry as this man. He wants space and efficiency in his life. He will buy a commuter to offset a spacious (but inefficient) vehicle; however, he does not want to pay a fortune for an additional commuter. Hrrrrrmpfff!

I told him to buy a Jetta CleanDiesel Wagon for $21K that would get him 38/44mpg. And then for his commuter buy a Jetta CleanDiesel Sedan! Both are sporty, fast, basically as fuel efficient as a Prius, far less difficult/expensive to service, and the Wagon has gobs more space! I am not a Volkswagen salesman, but until the Local Motors cars are available, this is a proposition that is hard to beat.

Just one idea for now, and it is immediate and available. What would your suggestion be for our doctor and his least until Local Motors has your car that you cannot bear to be without.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Air Base Motors - Vote now

Local Motors Third Competition is underway and the voting period is going to close in a couple of days.

It would seem somewhat suspect and self-serving for me to tell you how great these design entries are to this competition, but I don't care how it would seem, because they are really fantastic and deserve all the voting support and interest that they can muster.

Come, look, enjoy, and vote. These designers have done spectacular work and all of us (especially them) are interested in what YOU have to say about the work.

57 Designs from all over the world, but all inspired by the idea of an Air Base!

Just a teaser......

(LM-109, Design by Lude, LM Community Member)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tough Day for US automotive as the elephants dance

Ford is in trouble.

Fact: Ford posted its largest quarterly loss of $8.7BN and in so doing burned through $8BN in first half of 2008 from its $34BN+ war chest of cash and lines of credit leaving it with $26BN of cash.

Fact: Ford is shuttering Truck production and retooling much of its US manufacturing capability to build small vehicles from its European line up. This will take about 2 years to take effect.

Unknown: Does Ford have enough cash to make it through the upcoming losses and its needs for retooling?

Unknown: When Ford finishes retooling out of trucks for small car production, will that be the right mix for the American market.

Conclusion: Ford's ability to react quickly to changing market conditions is significantly restricted due to debt obligations, union contracts, and the fixed assets that it has in the ground.

None of this is news to Ford or its investors, but it does leave you wondering whether the stock is still overvalued at $5.11 per share.

GM is set to announce its results in the coming weeks and it is not expected to bring good news either. Stay tuned the elephants are dancing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Finding the right person - One step easier now - Startuply

As many of you know who work in small companies, great people are your greatest weapon, BUT finding great people is your hardest task. At Local Motors we have certainly found this to be true.

Every incremental person affects the organization so heavily that you want/need the best, but the more established companies have greater resources to be able to attract the best. So how can a small company compete to get those folks that they need to grow?

One way is now Startuply. This is a new startup focused purely on connecting startup companies and talented job seekers.

We have posted there as have many companies whom we admire and who are in the same position - Small and Exciting and Looking for the BEST!

We'll see how it works for us and we will let you know.

Gratuitous tip on hiring strategy: Hire A people and they will grow A people, Hire B people and they will grow D people. Very True. (One thing I never figured out is where all the C people are :))

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fail Early - Fail Often - Fail Publically - Succeed Massively

Yesterday, Donna Fenn, covered LM in her "Entrepreneurial Generation" blog post in Inc. Magazine discussing her admiration for companies which engage in the process of development through user lead innovation.

Great Post. Though short, the clear drift was that companies who engage in true "2.0" idea generation and feedback are much more likely to experience failure at first, but success in the long run. Here, in speaking about user-innovation led development, she says:

"It’s messy, unpredictable, and demands that you throw yourself into experimental mode, and declare yourself willing to fail. In the meantime, though, you’ve succeeded in assembling an engaged global community of members who talk to and collaborate with one another under your watchful eye, and who just may generate the spark for your next great success. "

Donna, these words struck right at the very center of the target for me. Truer sentiments have not been written about a 2.0 company, especially one that is making cars. Every day we approach new decisions with a clear sense of "we haven't been here before, but at least no one else has, and we are learning deliberately in full view of our community." So far that method of learning has only been a benefit.

As long as we keep the user lead "pipeline" open we are happy to continue learning in this way.

Can't wait to read the expanded version of the research in your book. Thank you Donna.

(a few minor clarifications to the article are as follows: we are not as much a social network as a community of enthusiasts; we have competitions every month not every week; and we are not an open source platform for the design of every part of the car but rather for the exterior and interior design and a few other select areas)

Monday, July 21, 2008

What do you vote when no one is looking?

On June 18th, I gave some thoughts on voting as we were about to go into the voting stage for the Miami Road Racer Competition.

I want to add to those thoughts that I gave in that post by discussing another interesting trend in voting.

Ever wonder what happens when a politician goes behind the ballot box curtain?

(The Governator Casting his Vote)

(The Governator's Wife about to Vote - Who did she support? Her Party or Her Husband?)

Do you ever wonder whether Ronald Reagan voted for the other guy? What about Franklin Roosevelt? Winston Churchill?

When it is "he or I" that is going to win, this notion of "altruism" seems quaint if not unlikely, but what about when there are many competitors, and the scale is not "yes or no" but rather "0-5"? Sound familiar?

Yes, this is in fact a description of the Local Motors Competition Ballot Box and I want to discuss the behavior that we have begun to observe. Several, NOT ALL, of our competitive designers have entered the fray of a competition.

For this bravura they are all to be congratulated. However, when some cast their first votes for others' designs they put a little tarnish on their objectivity by voting a "5" for their own design and a "0 or 1" for 50 others.

We talk about this alot at the LM HQ. Thinking your design is the best, is perhaps understood, natural, and a likely outcome of sleeping with your own ideas night after night, but disparaging equally all other works when they are clearly distinct is transparent, self serving, and not very honest.

This unfair "disparagement" is even more abstruse when the comments made along with the votes show clear distinction between different projects and often great praise.

So.... not an outright scolding, but a kind reminder to everyone: be faithful in your voting pattern. If you were only to win based on the extra artificial boost you alone gave to your design by putting down all others, is that really a win you would be happy with?

What if instead you voted with your conscience fully intact by judging others on their merits (perhaps even voting other designs above your own), and then - VOILA - you won! Wouldn't that be something to write home about?

Friday, July 18, 2008

One Off - Ferrari meanderings

According to a source in the July issue of Evo magazine, Ferrari has decided to pursue a program of building one-off car designs for wealthy customers who bring their designs to Ferrari. These cars will be built on existing platforms in order to save on engineering costs. The reported price: 2MM€.

At first, I would have said that this report was a joke and that there was no way that the house of Pininfarina would consider such deviations in its core brand, then I remembered that Ferrari was already doing just this.

Take for example the 612 K edition:

Or the P4/5 Enzo derivative:

"One-off" may seem like a special idea, but in practice, those (customers) who take part, end up driving an expensive "mule" that is unrecognizable to the kid down the street as a Ferrari. And what good is it when you drive by little Johnie's house and he yells "Get a Ferrari! If you are going to spend that much money on a car!"

Web 2.0 and crowdsourcing is perfect for a company like Local Motors, but I fundamentally do not see the attraction for other more established players to table dabble in this method, and even for a company like Local Motors I do not see the attraction in selling a micro-mini volume of cars to people who each want something unique.

Could it be true???

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Air Base Motors

We are now 48 hrs into our first week-long sketch-off competition. This one has been inspired by the air vehicles and the milieu of an air base, and therefore appropriately called Air Base Motors.

6 concepts have already flown in from around the world, and many more are in checkup getting vetted.

Come stop in and give them each a vote and a comment. These great designers deserve to hear your feedback.

(Air Base Scorcher by Labrador)

They can be found by coming to Local Motors and then clicking on the designs under the "Competition" Tab.

GM announcement today of a "plan to win"

Today the Chairman and CEO, Rick Wagoner basically laid out a plan which included the following:

Cut truck production (including selling Hummer)
Cut ad spending
Cut engineering budget
No white collar raises
No executive bonuses

To be frank, I cannot see a plan to cut and to take away being a "plan to win". I am certain it must be a gargantuan task to revive a company like GM, but these measures (albeit critical) cannot be the only major efforts toward success. Where is the growth? Is it all being pinned on the Chevy Volt?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Relfections on family

Last night my last Grandparent, Mary Nell Rogers, passed away peacefully with her family all around. She went much in the same way that her husband, my grandfather, chose to leave us. Now they will finally be back together.

As I traveled today to be with my family, I was left with the inescapable feeling that life is too short to waste time along the way. My grandmother was married at age 17 and had her first child when she was 19 years old. 75 years later she finally decided it was time to move on, but not before she had made a difference in thousands of people's lives. I don't know that there was a time in her life where she vacillated or double-backed, she just moved full speed ahead in all that she did.

I feel this same way about our pursuit of a new way to sell cars. With General Motors trading at its lowest stock price in 50 years, these are uncertain times in US auto, but we are certain about one thing: that customers want game changing, stylish, efficient cars that meet their needs. We are going to bring these cars to them, no vacillating, no doubling back, just full speed ahead so that we can look back in 75 years and know that we gave it our all and made a difference.

Go Local!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Electric Explorations

Even though it is not on our immediate program horizon, today we spent the day at one of the leading Electric Vehicle Battery manufacturers in the country.

It was fascinating, but I was left with some burning questions.....primarily about future product positioning.

Cars are all about the following criteria:
1 - Range
2 - Performance
3 - Style
4 - Purchase Price
5 - Fuel Cost
6 - Service Complexity

After running the numbers on EVs up and down, it really seems that a new company can profitably deliver #5, but usually at the expense of all of the other criteria.

So what do you think? Here is a brain teaser to put you in the mind:

You just bought an Electric Vehicle and spent $100K, you cannot drive from NY to Philly reliably and when you get there you will have to wait to recharge. But you have consumed less than an gallon. Are you pleased with your purchase?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Functional Requirements - Competing on the Columns?

Today we got down to discussing more functional requirements for vehicles and it reminded me of one of the core differentiating factors of Local Motors.

When you read Motor Trend or Car and Driver it is like a magnet for metal eyeballs to look at the statistics page which compares performance specs between 2 vehicles. Who wouldn't want to know how a '67 Cobra and a '67 Vette stack up? Right? ....well sort of right.... or actually, maybe not.

What I mean here is that vette-bugs and snake-lovers are born to ride the Ford or the Chevy emblem, and even if a select few burn a bridge with their friends to cross the aisle, they probably don't do it because one had .01g better performance on the lateral skid pad.

Get ready for some heresy! Cars are about experience so much more than comparing perf specs, but if we are only fed the specs, it is difficult to look by them. At Local Motors, we begin by encouraging people to feast on the attributes that they themselves care about the most. Certainly, when all else is equal, people likely buy a car based on the 1/4 mile, but with Local Motors so little is equal that we have an opportunity to drop the stats discussion altogether and to move on to those things that truly differentiate the entire business and product line.

Next time you crack open Car and Driver, think what you are consuming.

Local Motors Car #1:
0-60: Faster than you wanted
Skid pad : Huggy
Jump height: Wow, I have never jumped anything, and I couldn't see the ground!
Width: Ohmigosh, never gonna roll
Styling: Unmatched, just a small number made and you will only see it here. GO LOCAL!

When there is no other car in its class, this argument is especially compelling.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Great Figures in the auto industry - part 1

A brief note tonight on a couple of thoughts that I had about a few great figures in the auto industry. In starting Local Motors, each of us often has people ask who our mentors are in the business of cars.

In the latest of these, one of our close acquaintances who runs asked if I could recommend a good book about Ford (that would be the one and only Henry Ford). This is of course, a challenging question because there has been so much written about this seminal figure in the global auto industry. I almost don't know where to start, but I thought that I should take a try at it and let everyone hear my thoughts. ONE CAVEAT: I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON FORD. Truth be told, he is not even a hero of mine, but his legacy is unmistakable, and so here's a shot at some things to read.

The obvious answer would be to recommend, My Life and Work, by Ford himself (with Samuel Crowther). Nothing ever quite compares to listening to a person themselves so that one can make up his own mind; however, this book is missing on some of the more insightful reviews of Ford's life post mortem. For that I might recommend, Nevins and Hill who wrote several books the first of which was Ford: The Times, The Man, The Company. They are probably considered the definitive biographers, but the read is a little dry.... OK a lot dry. For some spice, I might turn to the history of Ford and his relationship to the labor movement (read hatred of organized labor). For this Harry Bennett, his longtime aide, would likely figure strongly. For example, in chapter 4 of The Story of the CIO, Benjamin Stolberg chronicles some juicy facts about the culture of fear developed in the famous Ford Service organization. Ford was notoriously anti-education and pro-hiring from the factory floor up. This ethos lead to a culture of gritty seat of the pants managers who vaulted the Company to stardom but were quickly outwitted by Alfred Sloan's General Motors.

(Henry Ford,

These are just a few thoughts. As a separate note but equally fascinating as a description of the men who shaped the Modern auto industry, I cannot recommend highly enough The Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry, by Richard Johnson. This book deals with the grandson of Henry Ford, Henry Ford II and 5 of his modern contemporaries who are responsible for much of the industry today. It includes a deep and rich description of the life and times of one of my true heros in the auto industry, Eberhard von Kuenheim, who from 1965 through the early 1990s put BMW on a path to remain on the automotive map for decades.

(Eberhard von Kuenheim,

The bottom line is that where ever you start in the history of great car figures, you are bound to learn a great deal about passion, risk, responsibility, reward, and leadership.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The LM Prototype - American Psychographic Rubber meets the Local Road

In the near future our customers will have the unique opportunity to "Drive the Design" - our first LM vehicle, which was born globally and made locally for them. For months now, we have been in discussions about the design we will build for our first prototype. Carefully, we have been watching the discussions and votes of our dedicated community of designers, builders, and enthusiasts as they sift through an incoming force of designs from portfolios, checkups, and competitions.

Thousands of designs are displayed in the the LM community bolstered by many thousand more comments, critiques, and visual references. This young community can already boast of two LM competition winners, more coming around the corner, a robust community of commenters, and an even more impressive group of portfolios.

In our engineering blog, Mike has made reference to some of the heated discussions we have had about our selection methodology for our first prototype and the lengths we go to to evince a designer's intent.

On May 19th and 20th, I blogged about the psychographic of our customer.

So this subject has CLEARLY been on our minds. Last night, I emphasized our mission, internal consistency in the soul and image of our product, and the importance of customer preference. But even given these tough lenses to look through, there remain many designs that our customers would "cross the frozen tundra" to buy. Still, not all of those designs are ones we should build.

So I wanted to continue to offer a little more insight about how we select a design to build.

Once we have a list of designs that enthusiasts have expressed a decided preference for, we work very hard to layer on concerns of the following nature. This process is where the "Psychographic Rubber meets the Local Road".

(, photo by MobileOak)

1 – We take note of 4 core pillars we have developed in the execution of our mission: 1 – Education, 2 – Desirability, 3 – Simplicity, 4 – Sustainability.

2 – We stick to our business model wherein we target buyers in a LOCAL MARKET out of micro-factory facilities that perform assembly, sales, and service.

3 – We like to work with members of the LM community who come from - or are connected to - a “local” area and are inspired to design work based on that area.

4 – We enjoy choosing BOTH a) sketch designs that are suggestive and inspirational but that leave a lot up to the imagination AND b) those 3D works that are much more finished so that the community and the internal team can move quickly to develop the “design process”. Either method is good, but whichever one the designer chooses, we only consider those that have received the highest praise and feedback.

5 – We look to pit our strength against the weaknesses of established manufacturers and not vice versa. This is our JUDO advantage. This is our strategy at work. To help in thinking about the core elements of our strength, here are 4 axes on which you can see where we WANT TO BE (in bold) and where we DO NOT.

I. American Authenticity (e.g. hot rod, aerospace, truck)—- vs.—- Foreign Performance (e.g. European Performance Sedan, Italian supercar)
II. Mechanicals Showing (e.g. open wheel, chassis showing, panels on frame)—- vs.—- Perfect Finish (OEM)
III. Presence of Excellence (e.g. got-to-have-it designs)—- vs.—- Absence of Defects
IV. Playing (e.g. a vehicle that actually does what it claims to in its looks)—- vs.—- Posing (e.g. a supercar look without the guts)

All of these 5 additional considerations are part of the patchwork that makes up our decision-making process and they give a much more clear window into the depth of discussion and analysis we pursue in making a decision.

Stay Tuned! We are working hard to help you drive these designs!

A note about our first product placement

Our competitions are exciting, our team is interesting to learn about, the portfolios on the LM site are compelling. All of these statements are true, but certainly the hottest topic on anyone's mind who knows about Local Motors is that we intend to build cars whose design is born in our community.

Naturally, this hot topic usually includes a discussion of what segment and function our first vehicle will fill/perform. "What will it be?"

What I perhaps underestimated in starting this company was the degree to which many stakeholders (family, investors, employees, advisers, web customers, designers, kit-car buyers, OEM onlookers, suppliers, etc) all want to have a say in the vehicles we build - or, should I say, the first vehicle we build. Our first vehicle is special because it is the beginning of a new era. It is the embodiment of a new way of building cars and bringing them to market, and I recognize how everyone wants to be part of that and to have their voices heard.

We cherish all of these voices, and they have already informed our choices greatly, but in chief, we have remained focused on one key voice, when it comes to this first vehicle, and that is the voice of our lead-user. He is the person who will cross the frozen tundra to lay down his money for this vehicle, and he is the person who eats/breathes/lives cars as a passion in work and in play. He is our first customer and we are building a vehicle for him. If we can impress him then he will tell his friends about us. Since he is a car nut, people trust him when it comes to their car decisions, and therefore our reputation as an auto maker will improve.

So this much is clear and easy, and we will stick to this plan like glue.

What is not so clear is: Whether or not this lead-user is currently a member of the LM community? Whether or not the design he wants to buy is yet part of our community collective? Whether or not his chosen design can be built within a budget and cost program required by our financial position?

Those questions do indeed give us pause to test our assumptions, but they are all part of making Local Motors as a business, a team, and a community into the best organized and smoothest functioning auto-maker that the world has seen.

Since the start, our mission has been as follows: Lead the next generation of automotive manufacturing, design, and technology in order to revolutionize the industry with game-changing efficient vehicles and an unprecedented standard of customer service. We are already on our way to achieving this and we intend to do so one vehicle and one customer at a time. Making a supercar for a buyer who craves maximum fuel efficiency is mismatched. Making a rugged truck for a buyer who craves luxury is mismatched. Making a 2-door coupe for someone who craves space is mismatched. And yet making one vehicle which is maximally fuel efficient, luxury and full of space is often impossible to do all at once.

It is our intention to commit to a user and to build his car right, before choosing what to build next. If you are a future customer, go straight to the site and identify yourself, then let your opinons run free. We want to her from you.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Environmental and Safety improvements at Local Motors

As promised, here's an update pic of the state of our safety rail
construction and insulating project. See Christopher at work.

We are very proud to take a forward leaning posture in energy
efficiency to lower both our net costs and our net impact. Not a
certified cradle to cradle facility yet but a responsible neighbor
within our vicinity and home to our team and company.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Winner - Miami Motors

Congratulations are in order for Sangho Kim of Los Angeles, California as he is the winner of Local Motors' Miami Road Racer Competition. Sangho is a sixth term Transportation Design Student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and an active member of the Local Motors Community.

Sangho competed with 50 other designs, during which time, his Miami Roadster (seen above) gained a community rating of 3.987 out of 5. While this achievement is noteworthy, perhaps more commendable is the community player he has become in making comments and interpreting feedback all while balancing the needs and desires of the Community.

Hailing from Korea, Sangho has brought his unique style to Southern California, and has really made an effort to learn and to reach out to all members of the community be they other designers, enthusiasts, or engineers. In so doing, he has listened carefully and improved his own work dramatically.

Yet another groundbreaking LM Community milestone has been achieved with the completion of this large competition and we congratulate all of the participants and committed site watchers, again.