Interview With Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors

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This is Part One of a three part interview with Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors. They recently displayed their Rally Fighter at the 2009 SEMA show and look to change the way cars are designed, and built.

Next week the Detroit Auto Show will kick off the North American International Auto Show circuit. Over 700 cars will be on display, including several concepts such as an electric Fiat 500 (which will share booth space with Maserati and Ferrari). Only a handful of these cars will make it to production as companies go back to the drawing board to come up with a “winner” they hope the public will buy.

Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, is trying to change all that. Instead of designing a car he hopes people will buy, he is gathering a community of enthusiasts to design a car they want to buy. The result is the Rally Fighter, an off-road car/truck (cruck? trar?) that can get over 30 mpg with 425 ft-lbs of torque that sets a new standard for car design.

When we talk about the future of the automobile, we are usually talking about alternative fuels like electricity, hydrogen, or natural gas. Rarely do we consider just how our cars are conceived, designed, and built. It usually involves an army of engineers, accountants, and executives who will put out a concept car during the auto show circuit, gauge public reaction, and take it back to the drawing board before it hits showrooms. Sometimes the car stays original to the concept (i.e. the 2010 Camaro) becoming a huge hit. Other times it becomes an entirely different and often ugly beast (Pontiac Aztek).

Jay decided to do things differently. He calls the process “co-creation”, and has enlisted car design enthusiasts from around the world to help him design cars. “There is real art being created everyday in our community,” he says. “We want to create a connection with the customer.” Jay has always loved cars. He is an equal opportunity aficionado, as big a fan of the modern Ford GT as the classic Bugatti Type 57, and has owned an impressive collection himself. But he never imagined he’d own his own car company.

The first Rally Fighter rendering, by Sangho Kim

Jay served as an Infantry Company Commander in the Marines that included several tours in Iraq. While he was there, he came to understand the precarious position our dependency on oil has created. When his tour was up, he enrolled in Harvard Business School where he got his MBA. “I never graduated from cars though,” he said, and decided to consult for the Art Center College for Design. While there, he came to learn that there was an entire community of people who shared a similar passion for car design. That was his “Ah ha” moment. He decided he was young enough to try something crazy, and formed a car company that would enlist all the unspent talent worldwide to design cars people wanted to drive. Thus, Local Motors was formed.

“We make cool cars,” Jay says. While he is a fan of driving fast, he isn’t so much a fan of racing, so he knew he wanted a car that could keep up with his speed needs. “But when you design a car, there are a lot of questions to ask. Does fuel efficiency matter? We think so, so we want our cars to be light and simple. It sure would be nice to have a lower impact,” he continues. So now you need a fast, light, simple, yet practical car that looks cool and gets good gas mileage. How do you get amateur car designers to fill such a tall order?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Local Motors holds design contests on their website. Would-be designers put up their ideas, where other community members vote on designs. The website is set up so you can see the car design evolve from a simple sketch to a fully fleshed out rendering. It really creates a sense of community around these cars, as well it should. The vibrant, active community is the heart and soul of Local Motors, and the competitive environment has produced literally thousands of designs. While there are several cars under consideration, thus far only one has made the transition from paper to fully functioning product; the Rally Fighter.

Check back later in the week as Jay takes us behind the design and build process of the Rally Fighter.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.