Local Motors Debuts $53K 3D-Printed Car Due to Be Road-Ready by 2017

Local Motors, the Chandler, AZ-based startup aiming to disrupt the auto industry’s traditional manufacturing cycle through crowdsourcing, micromanufacturing, and other technologies, has launched a new vehicle—and the company hopes to crash-test it and get it on the road by 2017.

The LM3D Swim is the second of its crowd-designed vehicles to go from concept car to marketplace, and Local Motors now plans to start an intensive refinement and testing phase so the vehicle will meet federal highway safety standards. The car incorporates thermoplastic materials from SABIC, the Saudi Arabia-based petrochemical company, and will retail for $53,000, CEO Jay Rogers said. Local Motors will begin pre-selling the vehicles in 2016, with delivery expected in 2017.

“Rapid iteration is the name of the game,” Rogers said, talking to us from the SEMA show in Las Vegas, a trade event that highlights specialty products in the automotive industry. “The LM3D Swim is a four-seater, and the layout is designed to make it look like a wave.”

Local Motors, which caused a stir by live-printing the world’s first 3D printed car at last year’s SEMA show and then did it again at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in January, is out to do nothing short of democratize and revolutionize the development cycle of automobiles. Rogers said back in the day, before he launched the company, he would have beers with a friend and talk about what it would take to reinvent the auto industry.

“Unless you own the design and sales process, you can’t do it,” he said. “It takes a whole rewiring of the value chain.”

To that end, Local Motors incorporates direct digital manufacturing, a process that produces parts directly from computer-assisted design (CAD) files. It has built micro-factories so far in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Knoxville, TN—home of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which has partnered with the company on much of its 3D materials research—that feature showrooms more like Apple stores than a typical car dealership.

In the future, Rogers said, Local Motors customers will be able to visit a microfactory, choose a model and options, and then pick up the 3D-printed car the following day. Customers will also be able to bring their vehicles in at any time for hardware and software upgrades, or they can choose to melt their vehicle down and, for instance, add a seat. Because Local Motors uses a distributed manufacturing system to make only what is purchased, it doesn’t stock inventory.

Local Motors, which was founded in 2007, was born out of Rogers’ desire to build vehicles outside the traditional automotive industry that weren’t reliant on foreign oil—a desire that was shaped by the time he spent as a marine fighting in Iraq.

“We were helping the Iraqis to rebuild their oil ministry, but thinking deeper, thinking to myself as a businessman and an entrepreneur, I would have liked to just shut this whole apparatus down,” Rogers told Xconomy in a 2008 profile. (Fun fact: Rogers said Xconomy was the first media outlet to interview the fledgling company soon after it launched.) “Friends of mine had been killed. Global warming was weighing heavily on my mind. I really had a moment of ‘What should I be doing with the rest of my life? What can I do to make a difference?’”

The company’s customizable vehicle designs are solicited through crowdsourcing either in person or online. For the LM3D Swim, a community member named Kevin Lo won a competition in July called Project Redacted, hosted on Local Motors’ co-creation platform, Open IO, with the goal of finding designs for the next generation of 3D-printed cars. Lo’s design was picked by judges including Jay Leno out of the 60 that were entered in the competition. Once the vehicle goes to market, Lo will receive royalties based on the number of cars sold.

Rogers is unabashedly excited by the prospect of his dream—radically changing the way cars are built and sold—getting closer to widespread adoption. More microfactories are planned for 2016, including one in Michigan if things go the way he plans, as consumer interest continues to build.

“We debuted the Rally Fighter five years ago, and every time I drive down the street in one, people say, ‘Wow! It’s so different.’ That’s the power of design and low-volume scarcity,” he adds. “Then you see them get to the second level, where they say, ‘What am I looking at? That’s not a normal car.’ When I tell them it’s 3D printed and I say, ‘Look at all the technology that goes into it’—suddenly, they realize they’re in a world of upgradable hardware and software, and it blows their mind. People are hungry for more information. [At the SEMA show], we’re in the home of glass and steel that’s synonymous with hot rods, and we’re showing something totally different. It’s fun to watch the reactions. We want to shock people with the speed with which we get this car manufactured and on the road.”

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