By on May 8, 2010

Local Motors wants to create unique automobiles that conventional automakers cannot possibly make. They want to design with creative talent from around the world, using the Internet and open source practices to make computer renderings into reality. After seeing (via word-of-mouth Facebook event) their first offering, the Rally Fighter off-road coupe, I have to say this business model is so crazy it might actually work.

Local Motors chose a fancy Houston restaurant for their release party, with their Rally Fighter prototype parked amongst the Cowboy Cadillacs (that’s a truck to you Northerners) entering the valet lot. It was a stunning contrast, until a truck shared the Rally Fighter’s adjacent parking spot. While it looks like no other dirt-ready Pre-Runner, this car is just as massive as your average long bed rig: it’s a modern interpretation of a 1970s Camaro lifted on a Chevy Blazer frame. Local Motors uses international design talent to create their flights of fancy, but designer Sangho Kim’s “American Southwest” inspiration is a clarion call for the mullet wearing, Journey-listening rocker within.

From the Civic coupe taillights, Miata door handles and the vinyl-wrapped body (a novel alternative to eco-rude paint booths) this rig is quite the eye catcher. While lacking an interior, all the proper wires, seats and controls are present and accounted for. The finished product is near, but the Rally Fighter is still a strange creation: this makes Tesla’s cramped roadster seem downright logical. But the Local Motors fan base chose this concept when put to a vote: implying they’d put down greenbacks to own a Rally Fighter.

Considering the design’s simplistic nature, they only need a few buyers to make a buck: hire a few engineers with collegiate SAE Baja backgrounds and the car almost makes itself. There’s even a dollop of green washing, with a BMW-sourced turbo diesel promising good power with clean diesel technology. But choose the LS-X based Chevy V8 if you want to save the green in your wallet, superior performance notwithstanding. GM sells these gasoline crate motors for $10,000 or less: I suspect a turn-key clean diesel from Germany will be double. Or more.

Pricing isn’t available yet, but $50,000 was one number thrown around. And to extend the platform’s commercial appeal, Local Motor’s has future plans for a street worthy Rally Fighter: lower ride height, high performance street suspension and the requisite big wheels make more sense given the body’s curvaceous profile. But a solid rear axle and a frame worthy of a truck? The “Street” Fighter is delusions of grandeur: given the crowded high performance car market, the Street Fighter sounds thoroughly out of its league.

Then again, this is a vehicle of limited production and scope: according to Local Motors’ PR folk, Rally Fighters are registered by a state’s Custom Vehicle umbrella. The lighting is DOT approved, the powertrains already pass EPA regulations, but the roll cage is only certified to meet desert racing specifications. Racing helmets aside, Local Motors assures us that the Rally Fighter has crumple zones like any modern passenger car, and will meet federal standards when they sell enough units to justify the expense of testing.

I spoke at length with Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers. Like every MBA-backed, former McKinsey & Co. consultant that I’ve met, Jay possesses the charm and intelligence to lead any organization to victory. And his passion for cars brings about a secret envy: making American cars without the Detroit state of mind. Jay’s definitely got the “vision” thing down, and speaks in a shockingly candid manner about anything automotive. We only dream of this level of candor in other auto making execs: refreshing doesn’t even begin to explain it.

Yes, buying into Local Motors means believing in their Commander in Chief. But start-ups are just that: the success rate of modern entrepreneurs in the OEM car biz is terrible. But if you’re gonna take the plunge, learn from Tesla and start small. And don’t overpromise. Local Motors’ regional centers are a good start: an IKEA-like facility in a suburban area that provides assembly and manufacturing, sales and support. It’s one stop shopping, a destination unto itself. And once the purchase is made, servicing the Rally Fighter is like open source software: any mechanic has access to Local Motors’ repair information. Hard to believe, but check out their webpage: even the Rally Fighter chassis’ CAD drawings are there for inspection. Try getting that from any other automaker.

So Local Motors has a great idea in their hands. The first product is certainly not for everyone (anyone?) but the business model has enough traction and common sense that Detroit should stand up and take notice. For all the talk of the American manufacturing sector’s decline, Local Motors is one moon-shot that merits a closer look.

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14 Comments on “Local Motors Rally Fighter: Off The Beaten Path...”


  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I hope you didn’t take any compensation for this FREEP style hometown promo.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Building a back-yard home-built vehicle is one thing. Building a design, development, marketing, sales, service, support, EPA/DOT compliance and associated network is another. Sounds like an interesting boutique hobby for a few guy, but a difficult idea to scale. Best of luck to them!

    Twotone

  • avatar
    Ihateusernames

    I wanted to like this, and I have been following the local motors thing for about a year now. After I can only think one thing.

    I have already seen this episode of the Simpsons.

    It is difficult for car companies to build exciting products that people want because consumers rarely tell you what they want. They might tell you what they have, and they might tell you about what excites then, and they might even tell you what they wish they had. Then they buy a Camry.

    Most great cars have been made so by the uncompromising vision of a single designer/creator who has fought with styling/management/accounting/ect. to keep that vision as intact as possible.

    Given that, the input from styling/management/accounting makes a designer/creator’s baby a production capable reality, one that you would want to own.

    This is a bodged together body kit on a truck frame. An systems un-integrated X6 with an offroad package, that costs less (slightly?).

    I once thought that the X6 was completely divorced from what an actual person wanted to own. The product of trying to eek out more production volume from an existing developed platform with minimal investment, regardless of its pointlessness. The definition of committee decision making.

    Local Motors, the “cloud” or whatever, essentially a committee, designed the same basic thing. The committee any form will continue to have similar results. Not cars individuals want to buy.

    doh!

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      “Then they buy a Camry.”

      Speak for yourself. A refrigerator, stove, or washer and dryer are more exciting than a Camry. The only thing Toyota makes that is of (future) interest to me is their all-wheel-drive Sienna. That would be for the day when we still want to go camping in the boonies but no longer want to sleep on the ground in a tent.

      Toyota used to make interesting cars like the Celica, Supra and MR2. Under the Lexus label they made the SC300, SC400 and IS300. Now, it’s all boring crap with nary a manual transmission to be found.

    • 0 avatar
      Motorbreath

      Kendahl, you’re missing the point of Ihateusernames’ arguement.

      While conducting focus studies for new products, the participants are shown sleek, exciting, performance capable, driver oriented vehicles which possess personality, character, attitude, etc. Public interest might gauge very high during the study, however, when push comes to shove, as these same people begin the new car purchasing process, they begin to consider certain factors such as, MPG’s, insurance and interior volume.

      It’s what killed the F-Body. Performance value galore, you got a great handling car with the mighty LS1, and either subtle good looks with the Camaro or the “here I am” Trans Am presence.

      Of course people would say that they would purchase them for the performance/appearance factor, but they didn’t. They would get the Camry or some other snoozefest of a car, because in the F-Body you sit too low, suspension was harsh, limited space in back seat, etc.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    This makes a BMW X6 look tasteful !

  • avatar

    Needs more bumperstickers.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately for them it seems some large car companies have already caught on. Go to http://www.fiatmio.cc (which means it’s a creative commons sight). Anything and everything developed there will be open source. The project started in the beginning of 2009. And the final product will be exhibited at the São Paulo Car Show at the end of 2010.

    Go there. It’s well woth the visit

  • avatar

    Cowboy Cadillacs

    Sajeev,

    Back in the 1960s in Detroit, we used that term for El Caminos and Rancheros. I’m not a pickup history expert but it seems to me that in the early 70s most pickups were still work trucks. If you wanted a bed for cargo but creature comforts, you bought some kind of Aminochero. A buddy of mine had a ’74 Ranchero GT with a 351 Cobra Jet. Both that, and the ’73 Montego another friend had with the same engine, were impressively fast for early malaise battering ram bumper smoggified cars.

    The 351 CJ was a very stout engine. After the Arab oil embargo of 1973, the Montego got traded in on a Lotus Europa. The service manager of the Ferrai-Lotus dealer bought the trade in and said it was faster than a 365 GTB/4 Daytona.

    • 0 avatar

      Ronnie, I don’t know if the Cowboy Cadillac term ever implied luxury for cowboys. I always saw it as a term of endearment for the Cowboy way of life, everything they need…and that’s all they’d really want anyway. Because real Cowboys don’t drive King Ranches.

      Your comments about the Montego are pretty hilarious. Not surprising, especially if the Daytona was used and poorly maintained.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    the Montego got traded in on a Lotus Europa. The service manager of the Ferrai-Lotus dealer bought the trade in and said it was faster than a 365 GTB/4 Daytona.

    I think is kind of a lie! Daytona probably was the fastest street car avail then.
    74 got smogged pretty bad too.
    A domestic V8 can crank out a lot of HP but does need a lot of work to make to run fast.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    my question is are that many people interest in a Baja desert racer coupe?

    i would think they would try something a bit more mainstream?

    like a FWD 4 door hatch?

  • avatar

    Sajeev, thanks for the post and honest critique. The Rally Fighter comes standard with a dual ride height option with manual adjustment.

    It’s definitely not for everybody, and that’s ok. The idea is to serve small groups of people a car they will love – the Rally Fighter is only the first.

    @TonyJZX, 96 Rally Fighters have been reserved to date. Only 2,000 will ever be built. Plenty of other car companies do mainstream :)

    This vehicle was designed specifically for desert racers in the Southwest, for folks who want to go pre-run a course, then drive home. To do this the vehicle will need to be street legal and capable off-road.

    The styling came about from the designer, Sangho Kim and the community collaborated and voted on details, performance features, etc.

    All – come visit us in Phoenix. We’ll have a test track in the back of the Micro-Factory so you can go for a ride.

    Sajeev, thanks again!

    Ariel

    aferreira@local-motors.com


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