Most fascinating green car of 2014: Local Motors Strati
SOURCE: BBC AUTOS
To hear Local Motors tell it, the revolution will not be televised; it will be printed in 3-D.
Based just outside Phoenix, Arizona, the startup is the car industry’s equivalent of a farm-to-table restaurant. Both espouse the virtues of housing production close to the consumer. Do this, their proprietors contend, and watch the benefits pile up: slashed carbon emissions from lower dependencies on freight vehicles, reduced stress on road infrastructure and a heightened sense of pride in the plated (or garaged) product.
Local Motors has always empowered hobbyists and professionals alike to contribute – via internet-based collaborative tools – towards all aspects of a vehicle’s design and engineering. But it wasn’t until 2014 that the promise of Local’s lofty principles began to take slow, deliberate, painstaking shape.
Rendered in line after line of carbon fibre-infused polymer, the Strati 3-D printed car rolled off the floor of Chicago’s International Manufacturing Technology Show in September. The fully formed, operational electric car was engineered and designed over years, but the printing of its body and final assembly took just two days to complete.
The potential of 3-D printing is immeasurable, a fact evinced by the $403m stock deal that landed MakerBot Industries – a producer of small-scale 3-D printers that was founded in an industrial loft in Brooklyn, New York – on front pages worldwide in 2013. Splints created on a 3-D printer have since allowed an infant born with a malformed windpipe to breathe unassisted. With the Strati, Local Motors emphatically joined the building case for 3-D printing’s viability. The hardware can be located anywhere electricity and plastic proliferate – which is to say, anywhere. A vacuous tech fad this is not.
Local Motors concedes that building 3-D-printed cars at scale will not be feasible for many years. The Strati, however, already makes carmakers’ efforts to source vegetable-based upholstery pigments and swathe dashboards in sustainably harvested bamboo ring just a bit hollow.
Second Opinion: Elio
The three-wheeled Elio cyclecar has two exceptionally enticing promises: a highway fuel-economy rating of 84mpg and a $6,800 price tag (both presently hypothetical). There is no hybrid-electric-fuel-cell-solar-impulse-drive at work here – just a small-displacement gasoline engine that Elio Motors promises to build in-house. The tandem two-seater will weigh very little, about 1,250lbs, and although the company has not revealed an aerodynamic drag coefficient, the car’s teardrop body looks quite slippery (if not quite in the same league as the stillborn Aptera Typ-1, by which it seems at least somewhat inspired). At this writing, Elio Motors – which is based in Local Motors’ hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, and plans to build its cars in a shuttered General Motors factory in Louisiana – claims to have close to 38,000 reservations on the books. A solid base, to be sure, but a mere drop in the bucket for a company whose startup costs will approach $200m. Will the US accept a three-wheeled anti-car in droves – enough to fulfill founder Paul Elio’s ambitious 250,000-units-per-year sales target? Tucker, Bricklin and DeLorean couldn’t do it, but what did they know? No matter how Elio’s promise plays out, colour me fascinated. – Matthew Phenix