Crowdsourcing the Car of the Future

By Neal Gabler

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Crowdsourcing the Car of the Future :

From the time John B. Rogers Jr. was a boy he had one large and audacious dream. In the 1940s Rogers’s grandfather Ralph Rogers bought the Indian Motorcycle Company and went bust trying to convert the big workhorse cycles into lighter machines that could compete with the Triumph bikes that had entered the American market after the war. Ralph Rogers eventually accrued a new fortune in other industries, but decades later he would lament to his young grandson that the thing he loved best was his old motorcycle company. “It was the thing that got him,” Rogers says.

Jay, as everyone calls John Rogers, grew up tinkering with cars; in high school shop he tore down two Porsche 356A engines. It was out of this love and his grandfather’s nostalgic rhapsodies that he would hatch his own crazy plan—a plan from which nearly everyone tried to dissuade him: Jay Rogers would start his own automobile company. And not just his own auto company but a company that made cars that were different from the ones made by the Big Three automakers—GM, Ford and Chrysler—cars with big personalities, cars he hoped would actually polarize consumers, cars they would either love or hate.

Of course Rogers, who is 39 but looks younger, isn’t the first dreamer to want to show up the Big Three. There was Preston Tucker with his Tucker Torpedo, Malcolm Bricklin with his gull-winged car, John DeLorean with his low-slung modernist car and, more recently, Elon Musk with his electric Tesla Roadster. Their auto bodies—all but Musk’s—are strewn throughout automotive history. But Rogers is different. He doesn’t want to build a single model like the others. He wants to build specific cars for local markets all around the world—a Boston car, a New York car, a Parisian car, a Ugandan car, a Malaysian car. Hence the name Local Motors, which was inspired by Local Motion, a surfboard company whose owner roamed from beach to beach, carving custom surfboards. Rogers hopes to have four of these factories up and running in the next five years with an output of 2,000 cars at each factory. He hopes eventually to have 100 factories.

Rogers harbors another dream—a dream that is much larger. He doesn’t want just to build cars. Jay Rogers wants to reinvent the whole way American companies do business. Although he has sold only 60 cars so far at $75,000 each, he has a theory and a plan for changing business using the internet, and he is sacrificing almost everything he has to realize them. He admits he is so consumed by his vision that he has lost many friends since starting his company and there is friction with his wife because he’s almost never home. “She’s fairly well at her wits’ end,” he confesses. But, he adds, “I have nothing left. I have given my all to this. This is my life.”

It may be an odd obsession for someone whose own family seemed to benefit from the old ways of doing business. But Jay Rogers has his reasons.

People have occasionally compared Rogers to Henry Ford. It is a comparison that makes him bristle. “Ford was a fad that came for a hundred years and now I believe is going,” Rogers says. When Rogers, as a student at Harvard Business School, began to think seriously about starting a car company, he had what he calls a “thunderous moment.” It came while he was conducting a fact-finding tour of the Ford truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, and his guide complained it was the worst time of the year—the changeover period when the plant shut down its entire production line to tool up for the new models, and the workers sat around idle. If the changes were smallish, it could mean a recess of a day. But if the changes were large, the shutdown could last a month. Rogers realized the Big Three could substantially change the way their cars looked only every seven years or so—once the machinery, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, had been amortized. That’s why everything moved so slowly in the auto industry. It took too much money and too much effort to change.

Rogers traced this intransigence to Henry Ford. When Ford, under the guidance of efficiency expert Frederick Taylor, routinized the manufacture of cars, mass-producing them on an assembly line, he not only took the nimbleness out of the process so customers basically got the same cars year after year, he also removed the magic of carmaking and sapped the autoworker of pride in his product. That system could last a long time—and it has—but Rogers believes it is doomed. In the 21st century, when everything is becoming more personalized, people want and need to love their cars, and the industry needs to be rethought to recapture the romance of cars. Not incidentally, Rogers also thinks it is the best way to sell cars.

Step into Local Motors’ “micro-factory” in the desert outside Phoenix, and it doesn’t look anything like any other automobile plant. The Dearborn factory Rogers visited covers 600 acres. By contrast, Rogers’s plant is the size of a high school gymnasium. The area is pristine, with beige walls and linoleum floors, and the ceiling is supported by columns decorated with greenery in white plastic planters. Soft-rock music wafts through the air, and there is only the faintest hint of the smell of gasoline or oil. There is no factory whistle, just a brass bell that is rung every time Local Motors enjoys a triumph—be it the completion of a car or a bug being worked out on the company’s website.

Ford’s Dearborn truck plant alone employs 3,200 workers. LM’s full crew is roughly 40, though that is largely because the bulk of the work is done by people who aren’t employed by the company and because the cars’ bodies aren’t stamped in steel by massive machines. The chassis are prefabricated tubes, the bodies are fiberglass covered with vinyl wrap, and the entire tooling costs somewhere around $20,000. Ford, GM and Chrysler have huge office towers for their thousands of executives, but at LM everyone—and that means the marketers, the finance staff, the designers and the tech people—shares one long room, with Rogers at the center of a table in a white rubber wingback chair like everyone else’s. The employees are different too. They are young, mostly in their 20s, and many of them come to work in black Local Motors T-shirts. And they are a disparate group. The web troubleshooter used to be a professional waterskier, the head of the design program is a Frenchman who once worked at a slaughterhouse, the CIO was pried away from a website he was creating for the recently divorced, and the chief salesman is an off-road racer. Another salesman just left the PGA Tour after 10 years. About the only thing they share is their passion for the company, so much so that at times it is almost like a corporate cult.

The word you hear most frequently at LM is not cult, it’s team. There is no hierarchy; just about everyone reports directly to Rogers, who usually shows up to work in a polo shirt, shorts and an old pair of Asics running shoes. Decisions are almost always arrived at democratically. Every Tuesday morning the entire staff gathers for a “stand-up” to resolve any issues or conflicts, from where a car is parked to leaving the factory space in a mess. The sessions are so informal that anyone from the outside is invited to sit in. Later that afternoon Local Motors conducts a “field day” during which everyone stops work to pitch in and clean the factory. Every second Friday they convene a “sprint” to discuss solutions for website problems—a method Rogers borrowed from software developers. To top it off, nearly everyone has been given a stake in the company.

But one of the main reasons Rogers wanted to reimagine the automobile company as a more democratic and passionate institution was to reimagine the cars it made. To date, Local Motors has only one commercial vehicle in production—the aptly named Rally Fighter.

Rogers has described it as an earthbound airplane, adding, “The soul of this car is actually down and dirty.” It is a fierce, testosterone-fueled beast of a machine, designed primarily for off-road, though it is street legal in all 50 states. One writer said, “It looks like it could eat a Jeep Grand Cherokee for breakfast and belch up a Hummer H3.” It certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a Batman movie. It is 189 inches long and just over 80 inches wide, has a 430-horsepower engine and sits high over its wheels like something in a monster-truck rally. The interior is industrial, and it gets only 16 miles a gallon—Rogers insists there are other green attributes besides mileage—but you don’t buy this car for comfort or economy. You buy it for power, and you buy it for show.

The Rally Fighter is not the kind of car Detroit would be likely to design. It is far too idiosyncratic. But the same could have been said of the Tucker or the Bricklin or the DeLorean. Detroit wasn’t going to make those cars either. No, there is something else about the Rally Fighter and Local Motors that may, as Rogers hopes, put them in the vanguard of American business and create the new paradigm he so desperately wants. That something else is the fact that the Rally Fighter wasn’t designed by professional designers, nor was it drawn up in a studio. What makes Local Motors possibly the most unusual auto company ever is that the Rally Fighter was designed on the internet by would-be car designers from all over the world collaborating on LM’s website. Put simply, it is the first entirely crowdsourced car. Rogers is betting that it won’t be the last. In fact, he is betting that this is the future—products not only for consumers but by consumers. And he is laying a very big bet.

Rogers’s intense drive to remake American business began when he was a teenager and his father experienced, as Rogers puts it, “an event that defined me.” Rogers was a scion of wealth and privilege. He looks like one: athletically trim, erect and handsome in a boyish Neil Patrick Harris way, with short sandy hair, even features and a patrician air of implacable confidence. He sounds like a patrician too, speaking in precise sentences and full paragraphs, each word carefully enunciated. It comes naturally. Ralph Rogers, Jay’s beloved grandfather, was the business-savvy son of a Russian immigrant. He earned his first million in a small Boston finance company by the time he was 30, then parlayed that into an even greater fortune in an aircraft company before the Indian Motorcycle debacle ruined him. He then picked himself up, headed to Dallas for his rheumatic fever and made his second fortune in cement and steel. Ralph’s son and Jay’s father, John Sr., attended Harvard, went to work for his father and then set out for Houston, where he befriended a wealthy widow who owned a large chunk of the downtown area called Westchase. John Sr. borrowed money, bought the property, developed it and rapidly became one of the richest men in the city, with more than $100 million in assets.

Around the time Jay was born, John Sr. decided to hand over the running of his real estate empire to a younger man and moved to Palm Beach, where he had spent much of his childhood. The Rogerses lived in a mansion once owned by the granddaughter of Henry Morrison Flagler, the 19th century oil baron who was responsible for turning Florida into a recreation retreat. They lived like maharajahs. The children—Jay, his two older brothers and their sister—dressed for dinner every evening, and the servers wore white gloves. They were raised by an English governess. They all attended Groton, where Franklin Roosevelt and other children of the American aristocracy matriculated, and then went to Yale, all except Jay, who, in an act of defiance, decided to attend Princeton instead.

“It was a charmed and wonderful way to grow up,” Rogers says now. But in 1986, when Jay was 13 and at Groton, his parents convened a family meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Boston. “We have some things we need to talk about,” his father, then 53, said solemnly. “Life is going to change.” The savings-and-loan scandal had erupted, and John Sr., who had bought his properties by leveraging his resources, was highly exposed. His assets were reduced to nothing. In addition, the government sought restitution for the loans he had gotten from various banks that had gone into receivership.

And just like that, everything changed for Jay Rogers, exactly as his father had said. The homes were sold, the jets were sold, and finally the Mikado, a 150-foot yacht John Sr. had built in Japan to sail with his family around the world—a “voyage of denial,” Jay calls it—was sold. Disgraced, the family had to make excuses to friends about why they no longer lived as extravagantly as they had. “My mother went into a black hole for a decade,” Jay says now. He could go to Princeton only because his tuition was footed by his older siblings. “My journey started at 13,” he says. And he remembers thinking, How can I get back to where I was? That was the flame that ignited Local Motors—a flame of vindication for Jay Rogers and for his father.

But it was also a flame of rebellion. Rogers wasn’t going to do things the way everyone else in his family had, the way American elites typically had. That was what had undone his father. Rogers wanted to swim against the tide. Still, it took a while for the rebellion to brew. It was a measure of his uncertainty that when a friend challenged him to do real public service and join the armed forces, Rogers promptly called a recruiter, who was shocked that a Princeton student would want to join the Marines. That plan was derailed when he broke his hip training for the Philadelphia Marathon and couldn’t pass the physical.

So Rogers reluctantly returned to the traditional path. After graduation he went to work for his father, who, in his own attempt at vindication, had raised money from friends to start a company selling diabetes meters overseas. (After a 10-year legal battle, Rogers says, John Sr. had been exonerated of wrongdoing.) Rogers wanted to assist in the comeback. The company failed, and Jay wound up working as an analyst at an investment firm in Dallas. Rogers hated the job, and when one of the partners, a former general, asked him what he really wanted to do with his life, Rogers candidly answered that he wanted to run his own business and be a “great leader of people.” The general suggested that if he wanted to learn how to lead he should join the military. When Rogers told him about his medical disqualification, the general promised to get him into the service.

That’s how Jay Rogers wound up in the Marine Corps at the age of 26. He admits it was a peculiar thing to do. His family was bewildered, and he took a fair amount of abuse from his fellow cadets for being an Ivy Leaguer. But joining was Rogers’s declaration that he wasn’t going to play by the old rules. His life had always been “extremely regimented,” as he put it. “It was time to do something that was my own.” And as Rogers says now, “I loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it,” especially the physical and psychological toughness of it. He finished the Basic School first in his class and had just taken over his first platoon when 9/11 hit.

Rogers did a tour of duty in the Philippines and another in Iraq as an aide to a general heading up a strike group. When he left the corps after seven years, the general asked him what he wanted to do next, and that is when Rogers revealed his plans: He said he wanted to start either a global intelligence-gathering agency deploying mercenaries to provide information to private businesses and governments, or a car company. The general told Rogers he needed to transition out of the Marines and into business and advised him to apply to business school.

Whatever lessons Rogers eventually learned in pursuit of an MBA, Local Motors is very much the product of his Marine Corps training, and he says he could never have run the company without it. Obviously LM isn’t buttoned-down, but it is combat ready. Marine jargon and dicta pepper Rogers’s conversations on the company’s principles: the OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act); shoot, move, communicate; what did I do yesterday, what did I do today, what’s in my way; the emphasis on decentralization and on responsibility. He clearly still has the discipline of a marine. When he isn’t on the road raising money—which is half the time now—his days begin early, often at 5:30, and don’t end until eight or nine in the evening when he makes the half-hour drive home. He gets more than a thousand e-mails a day. And his military training has helped him deal with the pressures of building a new company. “I never really had heartburn until I was a marine in combat,” he says. “But I never had heartburn like I had in my life until I was a CEO about to run out of money. It’s harder than being in combat.”

When he left the corps, in 2005, he entered Harvard Business School. Just as he was an oddity in the Marines for being an Ivy Leaguer, he was an oddity in the Ivy League for having been in the Marines. At 32 he was the oldest person in his class, and he never socialized. Instead he spent nearly all his time working on two business plans—one for his intelligence-gathering service, the other for his automobile company. When he broached the idea of starting a new car company to his fellow students, they thought he was nuts. Rogers thought they were too blind to see they were missing out on the future. But there was one student, older like Rogers, who had grown up in Dearborn, earned an engineering degree and worked at Ford, and he was intrigued. Rogers and the student, Jeff Jones, became confederates.

Rogers knew he wanted to start a car company, but he hadn’t nailed down most of the details. So he and Jones took two grants Harvard had awarded Rogers for his business plan and began their tour. This is when they visited the Dearborn truck plant. They also visited Tesla Motors; the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which trains industrial designers; an electric bike factory; a kit-car company in Massachusetts named Factory Five Racing; race car impresario Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR garage in North Carolina, which inspired LM’s own immaculate micro-factory; and Brammo, a small company headquartered in Ashland, Oregon that makes eye-catching light electric motorcycles one by one.

If Rogers had had his first eureka moment in Dearborn watching the factory shut down, he had his second late at night on his flight back from Ashland. The Big Three were committed to steel-bodied cars built on an assembly line, he thought. Rogers’s own company would be committed to cars without steel intensity—fiberglass cars—and it would assemble them the way Brammo assembled its motorcycles: individually, by hand, on the company’s premises. In fact, the buyer would, under the tutelage of a builder-trainer, construct a car himself. “That was the whole concept right there,” Rogers says—or at least that was the whole concept before he decided to crowdsource the design of the car.

Over dinner he and Jones formed a partnership to create a new automotive company. Rogers’s die had been cast.

At least that’s what he thought. But on the morning of March 16, 2007 he answered a knock at his door and found Jones with tears in his eyes. Jones said he couldn’t do it. It was too big a risk. It was a risk for Rogers too. He had received two extremely lucrative offers, from McKinsey consulting and a philanthropy, and they had given him an ultimatum. That night Rogers fell ill. He couldn’t sleep. The next morning, on the day of decision, he desperately called Mark Smith, co-owner of Factory Five, the kit-car company, and asked what he should do. Smith jumped on his motorcycle and met Rogers in Harvard Square. If Rogers wanted to start a new car company, then he should, and Smith would help him.

The biggest impediment to starting a car company is financing. Rogers’s first investor was Smith, but Smith didn’t provide money. Factory Five was situated in an industrial park in Wareham, Massachusetts, and it had extra space, a 20-by-50-foot storeroom, which it gave to Local Motors. Smith also let Rogers pick two of his engineers, and Smith continued to pay their salaries as they investigated all sorts of things from 3-D printing to turning drawings into computer-aided designs to finding new materials that would pass federal safety tests. Finding willing investors was harder, and Rogers is still bitter about it. Venture capital is eager to fund “another corporate Twitter messaging service,” he complains, but LM hasn’t attracted a single corporate investor. Asked how many times he has been told by a potential investor that it is crazy to start a car company, especially in a recessionary economy, Rogers says “at least 400.” He now has 40 individual investors, who have put $12 million into the company. Half are friends and acquaintances.

By the time he set up shop in Wareham early in 2008, Rogers had a concept and he had seed money. What he lacked was a car. He hadn’t started the company with the idea that the cars would be designed by a community, but then he saw a presentation by Threadless, a T-shirt company whose designs are submitted by members of a web community, which then collectively selects the best ones to print on shirts. That got Rogers thinking about how community sourcing might work in the auto industry. As Rogers saw it, corporations had traditionally owned everything their employees produced, and most manufacturing was top down—by corporations for the consumer. But the internet had begun to change that. “The point,” he says, “is that the individual is really the one who could have the power.”

That is what he calls the “third industrial revolution,” after the first industrial revolution, which in the 19th century mechanized tasks previously done by hand; and the second industrial revolution, which in the 20th century ushered in mass production. The third industrial revolution would be digital, and it would birth an economy in which individuals, not corporations, made the decisions about what got made. In effect, the web is the new corporation, which is why LM exists as much online as in its micro-factory.

Web crowdsourcing is precisely how the Rally Fighter came into being. Rogers recruited CIO Tim Thomas to set up a website and invited designers to post their drawings there, where they could be seen and commented on by the LM staff, including Rogers, and other members of the community. To kick-start the site, he visited various design schools and invited students to submit sketches. As a further inducement, he launched competitions and offered prize money, with the winners chosen by a vote of the community. Rogers said he knew the concept would work when the winner of his first competition went online to praise a rival’s submission. They were communicating.

That rival was a Korean-born student at the Art Center in Pasadena named Sangho Kim. When Rogers began a competition to design an off-road vehicle for the Southwest, Kim’s submission, Rogers thought, had the sweep of a Japanese samurai castle. The community responded enthusiastically, and the design won. When Rogers decided it was time for LM to actually make a vehicle, he chose Kim’s design. Rogers admits the team was divided over which car to make, and in the best of all possible worlds the community would have had the final vote. But he felt the community had too few members at the time—roughly 20,000 post comments now, 200 of them daily—and that LM’s first vehicle had to hit a specific niche that no other car company was hitting. The community continued to weigh in, making alterations to the design and even to the engineering, protesting that the BMW diesel engine the company had selected would be too difficult to service in the desert. As a result, it instead chose a Chevy LS3, the engine that powers the Corvette.

From design to production wasn’t exactly an exercise in Henry Ford efficiency. In the first place, the Wareham storeroom was not big enough to make the car, so Rogers picked up the entire operation and moved it to a former recreation-vehicle showroom off the highway in suburban Phoenix, a location that fit the idea of an off-road desert car.

While it takes Ford, GM and Chrysler anywhere from five to seven years to design and manufacture a car, LM had the Rally Fighter ready in less than 18 months. Similarly, when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the Department of Defense, approached LM about designing and manufacturing a prototype for a military reconnaissance and recovery vehicle, LM produced the car in just over four months, after receiving 162 official submissions for the design. President Obama attended the unveiling, shook hands with Rogers and saluted all those who had contributed to the design.

That was the high point. The low point came in June 2011 when, after spending $3 million and producing 11 Rally Fighters, Rogers decided to shut down production. The community had suggested some tweaks he knew would improve the car—things like better suspension and a cleaner fit on the doors—so Rogers went to his investors and asked for $300,000. Board members Mark Smith and financier Tom Lehrman suggested Rogers ice the Rally Fighter and raise money by conducting more competitions with corporate partners. When he broke the news to his team, they were stunned—not that the board would propose such an idea but that Rogers would seriously entertain it. That shook him out of his daze. Instead of shutting down, Rogers repriced the car at $75,000 (it had been selling for $50,000), then went out and raised $2.7 million in two weeks to finance the design changes. In six months the Rally Fighter was back in production, but, Rogers admits, “it was wrenching.” During the downtime he had to fire the entire production floor.

When Rogers talks about his community, he fairly beams. To supporters and critics alike, the advantage of using a community is that you get thousands of ideas and critiques—the wisdom of the crowd—without having to pay for it (other than the $10,000 in prize money LM awards its winners). The winners have no financial stake in their designs unless the company actually makes them; they operate by the terms of the Creative Commons, a group that promotes open sourcing, making information freely available to everyone. Indeed, if this is the first community-sourced car company, it is also the first open-sourced car company. The Big Three don’t give their secrets away. All of LM’s specs are listed online, and anyone can make a Rally Fighter in his garage, if he has the wherewithal, without having to pay the company a dime. LM even provides a wiki that takes people step-by-step through the process.

But Rogers is convinced the third industrial revolution is not just about money. It is about happiness. What community members get, he says, is the satisfaction of seeing their designs realized if they win, an international community of like-minded people to provide support and feedback, professional online tools such as CAD at a nominal cost to make it easier to convert drawings into plans and the opportunity to showcase work in the larger design community. (Rogers is certain the site is monitored by traditional auto companies.) Victor Garcia, who submitted the winning design for the DARPA vehicle, is now working at the Peterbilt truck company, and Sangho Kim is working for GM in Korea. Kim’s name also adorns every Rally Fighter on a metal plate the way an artist’s signature identifies a canvas.

Rogers thinks the same satisfactions motivate the folks who buy the car. Obviously they are well-heeled enough to purchase an expensive car in difficult economic times, but Rogers believes there is a deeper appeal than owning a new trinket. He calls it the “build experience”—the opportunity to make your own car, doing everything from designing the images that adorn the wrap to tightening the bolts. The experience takes six days. It could be a father and his son, or a few friends, or even a husband and a wife. Clients aren’t mechanics. Some of them have never even used a screwdriver. But the building experience is a path to the bonding experience. Builder-trainer Mike Pisani says, “We are trying to create the Disney World of automotive experience. You’re not just swapping cash for a car.”

In a way, that is the primary force behind the third industrial revolution: bringing people together, sometimes in new and unusual ways. Local Motors has held design competitions with Shell Oil for local energy-efficient vehicles, with the B’Twin bicycle company for an adult tricycle, with Peterbilt trucks for a new flagship vehicle, with Domino’s Pizza for a customized pizza-delivery car and even with Reebok for an automobile-inspired sneaker. While the main participants are aspiring designers, truck drivers signed on for the Peterbilt project, and pizza-delivery workers entered the Domino’s contest. Moreover, Local Motors has deals with Snap-on Tools, Lincoln Electric, Siemens PLM Software (to provide CAD to the community for a nominal price) and 3M, which produces the wrap the Rally Fighter uses instead of paint.

Traditional car companies, however, are skeptical. The head of innovation at GM visited the Arizona facility and came away baffled. “He didn’t get it at all,” Rogers says. He attributes it to the fact that most automobile executives, though eager to learn how to move cars via the internet, do not like cars very much, not the way he does. He is especially lathered over a lead automotive analyst who called the iPhone the “new Mustang,” as if social networking could replace the automobile.

Even so, LM partnered with GM in overturning a California regulation that prohibited taking an engine from one car and putting it in another (as LM did with the Chevy LS3) for fear that emissions controls would be circumvented. The companies were, as Rogers says, “strange bedfellows.” LM is also collaborating with BMW on a plan in which LM would use its international community to design local vehicles for specific areas and then have BMW manage some of the micro-factories.

Rogers claims he has already made more cars than Preston Tucker, and he believes his company will be profitable by the end of 2013, not just from car sales but from competition partnerships and selling CAD software to the community. Because his overhead is so low, he says he needs to sell only five cars a month to get there. But then there are those industrial vistas that stretch far beyond turning a profit. Already LM is working on a two-seat “tandem car” that is being both designed and engineered by the LM online community with the intention of providing specs so anyone can build the car at home for as little as $10,000. The company is examining how to energize the engineering community, which currently has only 50 regular participants, and make it as active as the design community in the hope that LM might someday make its own engine. It is also looking for global partners, both corporate and governmental, especially since the regulatory hurdles in the developing world are much lower than those in the United States.

But as almost everyone at LM says, the objective is to be more than just a car company. The objective is to be the online transportation hub of the world: the place where anyone interested in transportation, be it cars, boats, bicycles, trains or planes, can go to discuss, design and engineer vehicles. Already in garages, basements and warehouses around the country there are hundreds of “hacker spaces”—guerrilla labs where anyone who wants to make something can hang out with other tinkerers, use equipment and produce things. LM has drawn on several of these in Phoenix for ideas, and it has turned its own micro-factory into a hacker space on Thursday nights. Over time it could become the biggest virtual hacker space in the world. As Isaac Olson, LM’s engineering-community liaison, sees it, someday the company may serve as an exchange, showing people how to realize their plans by connecting them to manufacturers and others with expertise. Designer Aurel François agrees. He sees LM not just as a potential Facebook for designers but also as a potential eBay for transportation design.

“I think Local Motors is going to be a household name in five years,” CIO Tim Thomas predicts. “What we’re doing is completely different, and what we produce is very passionate.” Of course LM could also wind up on the trash heap. But if it succeeds, Jay Rogers may turn out to be a 21st century business legend—the man who showed ordinary people how to beat corporations at their own game, the man who fought industrial inertia and won and, not least of all, the man who did something so gigantic and revolutionary that it demonstrated his own fortitude and burnished the Rogers name after his father’s setback. That’s why Jay Rogers is all-in. He can’t afford to lose.


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