One of the most inspiring "stories" at the Business Innovation Factory's fifth annual summit, BIF-5, in Providence, Rhode Island was told by Jay Rogers, the founder of an innovative new American car company, Local Motors (www.local-motors.com). Jay is an ex-marine whose grandfather instilled in him a passion for cars. His grandfather owned, among other companies, Indian Motorcycles. Jay grew up in a car-mad family. His experience fighting in Iraq convinced him that the U.S. needed to shed its dependence on foreign oil. So he has invented a new kind of car company.
The cars are made out of easily assembled, lightweight composite materials to reduce fuel consumption. The car chassis is licensed from an existing mass-producer of cars (the first one uses a BMW chassis). The "proprietary open source" car designs are contributed by world-class industrial and automotive designers participating in open competitions on the Local-Motors Web site. The designs are submitted, evolved, voted on, and critiqued by car fans, designers, and prospective customers (customers' votes count more). The car designs are specific to each region of the country. The community also participates in the design-to-build phase through an open prototyping process for each new model. Each phase is photographed, commented upon and posted, with trade-offs discussed.
Once each local car model is in production in its micro-factory, each customer helps assemble his own car at this local sales/manufacturing facility/service location. (Think Build-a-Bear for cars!). As Jay Rogers explained: your car is the second most expensive investment most people make in their lives; why shouldn't you have an amazing experience and an amazing car?
You can reserve your spot in the manufacturing cycle for $99 (refundable or transferable), lock in your build date with a deposit of $5,000. Your custom car will cost $50,000. You can also have designers compete to design the unique vinyl skin for your car by sponsoring a skin design contest. You set the tone and guidelines, offer $200 for the winning design, and take advantage of having hundreds of world-class designers vie for the privilege of "skinning" your car.
When I met Jay Rogers and chatted with him about writing a case study about Local-Motors, I told him that what he was doing fulfilled a vision that one of my clients had described to me 20 years ago. In the 1980s, Skip Walter spearheaded the team that designed DEC's multi-million dollar success in office automation, DEC's All-in-One Office System (which was customer co-designed). One day we got to talking cars, and Skip described his vision of the future of the automotive industry. Eventually, he said, car dealerships won't be places where you go to buy cars that are already on a lot. They'll be just-in-time micro-factories where your car can be custom-configured and assembled. The same factory can handle service. No more wasted inventory. Much more customer engagement. It tickles me that Jay Rogers is fulfilling one of Skip's dreams.