That's not a shabby endorsement of co-creation, a development process Local Motors sees as a way to turn the car industry on its head. With more eyes trained on the evolving design and with a broader audience providing feedback, Local Motors says it's assured the resulting car design will resonate with the customer audience, Mike Pisani, Local Motors' vehicle engineer and lead builder trainer, told me in an interview. So far, the Local Motors online community is around 20,000 people, including registered users and Facebook and Twitter followers, and the firm has taken 140 deposits on its Rally Fighter model, with 20 cars already delivered.
In addition to the active online community of collaborators, there's a strong design tool angle to the Local Motors story. The 2D concepts are brought into a SolidWorks 3D CAD to model the various components of the car, and Inventor Alias and CATIA Surfaces are used to do shaping and surface work. 3D printers are also a critical part of the development process, to both develop custom parts and to effectively integrate components into the vehicle packaging, Pisani says.
In one instance, the Rally Fighter team needed a driveshaft yoke to accommodate its offroad-ready suspension. Pisani says the team purchased the closest off-the-shelf part it could find and reverse-engineered it using 3D printing and scanning technology from ZCorp. to capture the surface data, refine it in SolidWorks CAD, and print a concept model to ensure proper fit. In another example, the team employed 3D printing to create a mold of the front quarter-panel of the Rally Fighter, taking the component to local malls to canvas headlights and taillights so it could easily find an off-the-shelf part that would fit.
With the CAD/3D printing approach, Local Motors can create and test a design option in a matter of days instead of waiting weeks for a machine shop to go through expense and multiple revisions of tooling, Pisani claims.
While I'm not na´ve enough to think the Local Motors approach is a turnkey replacement for legacy automotive manufacturing, there are some valuable lessons to be gleaned that should give crowd-sourcing skeptics food for thought.