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Your Next Car Might be Built Locally

Resilience is about being able to produce most of the things you need to live well.  It isn’t about deprivation, roughing it, or turning back the clock.  This means that resilient local production can’t be limited merely to the essentials like food and energy.  It should also include the “consumer” products, the things, we find extremely useful.

Fortunately, that’s increasingly possible.  How?  There’s a manufacturing revolution going on that is making it possible to produce most of what we currently buy from the global production system (multi-national companies and China) locally, within our own communities.  That even includes products as larger and complex as cars.

Here’s a cool example:  Wikispeed (if you are technical, take some time to watch the videos of their production process on the site).

Wikispeed is an online car company with a volunteer team of designers, engineers, and enthusiasts all over the world.  Recently, this team jointly designed a complete car in a stunningly quick three months that:

  • gets high performance,
  • achieves 100 miles per gallon mileage,
  • meets all US safety standards,
  • uses modular construction (so that all parts and subsystems can be easily replaced).

Not only that, it’s beautiful (see below).

Wikispeed Roadster

For our purposes, it’s important to understand that this design can be made in a relatively small, local “factory.”  A factory that employs craftspeople you know.  A factory that you can visit.  A factory where it may be possible to participate in the manufacturing process.

As you can see, this method of manufacturing adds to local resilience.  It invests in local expertise and productive capacity.  It creates resilience.  The critical thing here is that if you can produce something as complicated as a car locally, it’s possible to do so much more.  Don’t limit your imagination to what’s possible.

Your hoping to buy my next car from a local maker analyst,

 

John Robb

 

PS:  Wikispeed isn’t the only car company doing this.  Local Motors is too.  I met with their CEO recently, great guy.

PPS:  Wikispeed has recently inked an agreement with my friends at the innovative Open Source Ecology (a group that is working on low cost, local tools) to merge their modular production systems.

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Coward anonymous

    Hi John,

    Your site is great, because it shows real stuff, and gives hope that it is possible to move towards a decentralized production system.

    I just have a concern on two things :
    - raw materials
    - energy source

    Getting both still seem to require the existing “multinational corp.” infrastructure… and whatever is done in terms of productive organisation, what will replace oil once it is really over ?

    • johnrobb

      CA,

      Thanks much.

      Raw materials. One good thing. We sit on a vast consumer product waste dump full of raw materials that are useful.

      Lots of work around for energy. Going to cover lots of that.

      JR

  • Tower 2

    This is excellent movement towards a global IP Bank, an essential component to creating open source products and solutions that are available to all and encourage ongoing implementation, evolution, and improvement. With efficiency, durability, sustainability, and localized fabrication used as benchmarks we can break out of the patented IP ownership secret technology model that is currently stifling creativity and progress. A robust and effective product evolution can be assured by coupling this model with a concerted ongoing effort to evolve designs based on the acquisition of standardized data streams that measure performance, and feedback from front line users.

    • johnrobb

      Tower 2, I think so too. Jr

  • c.

    It’s a little old but this video of the Local Motors guy is pretty inspiring. http://www.dolectures.com/lectures/can-a-community-design-a-car/

    • johnrobb

      C. The group at Local Motors is high energy. JR

  • DC

    IIRC the first automotive driveline applications of plastic gears will debut soon, which is a nice pre-cursor to 3D printed transmissions etc.

    The WikiSpeed must have 100+ horsepower to achieve those acceleration and top speed numbers. Really impressive specs, though not impossible. Would be nice if there were drivetrain details. (If I missed them, I’d be grateful for a link)

    • johnrobb

      DC, I suspect you would need to join their community to get the data dump. JR

  • John Galt III

    Unless a lot of the tedious assembly is done by machine, which is coming, that locally produced car is going to have vastly more labor costs and less economy of scale built into it. The Japanese automobile factories are said to be spooky, because the cars are being built in a massive space with almost no people present. Cars built by hand fits neatly into Kunstler’s view of the world. One of his new books is “World Built by Hand.” That is just another way of saying that our standard of living is going down. I’d prefer to see mass produced electric cars, perhaps in the style of Tata Motors. Not sure how their quality is, but you can safely bet that it will improve. A lot of people laughed at Japan in the 1960′s when they made little bamboo umbrellas and model cars from recycled beer cans. Twenty, and possibly ten, years later, they were building the best cars in the world. I expect Asian manufacturing quality to improve even faster, given that they have PC’s, which were not available in to Japanese manufacturing in the 1970′s.

    • johnrobb

      JG,

      A lower standard of living? Yes, for almost everyone still attached to the old, global industrial model. Not for those resilient communities that locally produce.

      I think it might benefit you to dive into the Wikispeed production process a bit. It’s pretty amazing. I wouldn’t classify local makers as the weaker party in this economic contest.

      JR

    • Burgundy

      John G, you bring up an interesting question, something JR might be able to add to. Basically, an artisan makes a product using basic hand tools and the benefits of his work accrue almost entirely to him (ie. the “vastly more labor costs” are actually a benefit).

      A factory makes a product using finance (capital), machine tools, labour and energy, the benefits generally go to financiers (banks, shareholders, bondholders, etc) , equipment makers, energy suppliers, etc. After decades of industrial innovation, massive production capabilities, huge economies of scale and eye-wateringly large sales, most car manufacturers are drowning in debt, the benefits somehow lost to the enterprise. Farmers are to be found in a similar distressed state too, the industrial agricultural model having turned them into debt zombies (ie. enterprises, dead, but still living due to infusions of borrowed money and subsidies).

      So the question is what method of production is best suited to RC’s? Or how can RC’s structure production to both generate sufficient sales, yet keep the benefits within the RC? I think JR has been doing a marvellous job highlighting different ideas that can be taken up and used by RC’s to do this, so maybe we’re at a point where the various elements can be pulled together into a model of some kind (or a fictional illustration for design purposes).

  • David

    I’m impressed by what these folks are doing but calling it “resilience” is a misnomer. Resilience implies the ability to recover to a previous state of normal functioning. Being that this state or process never existed there is no place to recover ‘to’. As there are already functioning methods to produce automobiles, this seems to be more of a disruptive approach.

    My two cents

    • johnrobb

      David,

      It’s definitely disruptive, in it you can see the potential for the localization of manufacturing. However, the disruption we are planning to recover from is a break down of global supply chains that make existing methods of production uncertain. Being able to procure vehicles through a local production produces is resilient within the definition of the term.

      JR

  • jf

    @James Bowery,
    I dug deeper into their process videos, and some linking videos shot by OpenSourceEcoloyg… their carbon fiber process in a nutshell:
    *buy foam board from HomeDepot on sale
    *carve it in layers w/ a cnc router
    *stack like the cake boss, smooth the resulting form
    *lay carbon fiber, wet it w/ epoxy
    *sand and prep the resulting aeroshell/body

    Is Wikispeed an example of “resilient” business practices… I don’t know, but I do know that MY community would be more resilient if it produced cars and similarly complex and expensive machinery. My household would be more resilient if I could buy a hyper-modular car which could be endlessly upgraded/repaired/modified with simple tools. My community would benefit if everyone’s car payments accrued to local manufacturers, instead of Big Auto. While we’re at it, let’s finance these local cars through local banks, and fuel them with locally produced bio-fuels (which is feasible at 100mpg).

    JF

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