Solutions for Self-Reliance

Community Thursday: Local motors and Resilient Manufacturing


The great part of doing original research on resilience, is that I get to hang out with amazing people both online and off.   You know, the smart people that are actually making a better, resilient future that’s worth living in.

Here’s an example of someone doing exactly that.  I recently had high energy lunch with Jay Rogers and Justin Fishkin of Local Motors, a block or so down the street from Harvard University.

Jay has an unusual background — Princeton/Harvard/McKinsey/Marines — but what makes him really interesting is that he runs the first company (a start-up) that is trying to make a vehicles using a resilient manufacturing process.  It’s worth your time to understand what this means.  Why?  Because you are going to want a Local Motors (or something akin to it, whether it is corporate or a DIY shop) in your resilient community at some point.

Resilient Manufacturing

So, what makes the Local Motors manufacturing process resilient?  Three things:

  • A Virtual Design Community.  All of the conceptualization and design is co-created online by a large (tens of thousands) community of professionals and amateurs from around the world.
  • Customization and Connection.  This isn’t a commodity purchase.  The customer selects a design and works with the selected team (with help from the professionals at Local Motors) to customize it.  It’s a collaboration between customer and designer.
  • Local Production.  The design is sent to a local team to produce the vehicle.  In some cases the customer gets to participate in the construction process.

At the top level, the benefit of this approach is that it allows the customer to purchase a customized concept vehicle (car, motorcycle, etc. that’s nearly unique) at a price that approximates the purchase of a generic luxury vehicle.

The Community Takeaway

I have a few important takeaways from the interaction.  Some of these should be of value to those of you working on manufacturing products locally.

One that I’ll share here is that an online community is vitally important in a crowd-sourced venture like this.  It’s at the core of why this venture works.   Here’s what Local Motors has done right:

  • Contests.  40 mini design competitions across the world.  From Boston to Sao Paulo to Amsterdam.   These contests boost site growth (most of the site growth comes from them) and provides connections to production facilities in cities around the world.  Interestingly, the size of the reward isn’t correlated with contest success.  Also, complex/difficult projects get the greatest number of participants.
  • Tools.  The big barrier to entry for a amateur vehicle designer is the cost of a computer aided design (CAD) software.  Good packages cost thousands of $$.  Local motors has worked with Siemens to provide a CAD subscriptions for as low $19.95 a month on up.

What could it improve on?   After using the Forge, it became apparent that the Forge’s site (a crucial part of what’s required for community formation) isn’t what it should be.  There are so many great examples out there to copy, there’s no reason not be cutting edge.

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