Local Motors shut down but the 3D printed car dream lives on
Local Motors has shut down. The news broke a few days ago. We wanted to independently confirm it and we did. The decision was quite sudden and unexpected (we even had an interview planned for this month’s AM Focus Automotive) but that can sometimes be the case with American startups. For those who saw the company come such a long way and followed its evolution since its first 3D printed car, it’s a sad day.
The company wrote a big piece in the history of automotive 3D printing but AM was not its main focus and it’s probably not the cause of its demise. Starting as a distributed design and distributed manufacturing company, Local Motors became first and foremost a smart EV company. The Local Motors shut down is directly related to a lack of demand rather than an inability to meet that demand in a cost-effective way.
In other words, it’s not that Local Motors was not able to produce enough OLLI 2.0s or that it could not produce them in a cost-effective way. Rather, installing its vehicles in 24 sites around the world to date was not enough to support and finance its continued activity. Yet Local Motors has been responsible for a huge number of AM industry firsts, including the use of LFAM technologies (from Cincinnati Inc first and from Thermwood later) and LFAM composite material from SABIC, to produce large size automotive final parts.
“I am disheartened to announce that Local Motors will cease to exist as of January 14 […]”, Chris Stoner, former Vice President of Sales and Customer Success wrote on his LinkedIn page. “The autonomous vehicle space is an exciting emerging market with plenty of opportunities. Experiencing first-hand the skill and dedication of the people I worked with, I have no doubt AVs (like Olli) are the future of transportation.”
The Local Motors experience has not been lost. Projects and companies offering LFAM extrusion have multiplied over the past five years and so has the demand of composite pellet materials for these technologies. Much like other large failed projects (for example the 3D Printed Canal House in Amsterdam), Local Motors inspired a revolution that will continue to grow and evolve.
That said, we also need to move some criticism to the company’s strategy. When it launched its very first 3D printed car, the Strati, Local Motors intentionally created a major hype around the concept of a fully 3D printed vehicle. While hype is not all bad and does help to broaden an industrial or technological market segment, Local Motors’ idea was never truly feasible and did take some of the focus away from real and profitable automotive AM applications, from prototyping, to tooling to modeling to the production of certain final parts.
In addition, targeting a broad segment such as automotive mobility, even with a specialization as EV and AV, is very challenging for a small, innovative new entry company. Tesla has done it successfully it but there can only be one Tesla. We are partial but we think that Local Motors should have been truer to its nature as a 3D printing company, continuing to emphasize and develop this production method and targeting other LFAM applications along with the OLLI.
Perhaps, in doing so, the company would have received more support from AM companies as well. One of the biggest challenges for LFAM hardware providers is finding and qualifying applications. Local Motors could have done that a lot more effectively and perhaps that would have helped the company support its OLLI 2.0 vision and beyond.