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Who Wants to Pay to Build A Car?

Scott Lucas | July 24, 2013 | Story Tech World

There's nothing cooler right now than brewing your own beer, growing your own vegetables, or crafting your own furniture. But it's not as if you have to pay Anchor Steam, ConAgra, or Crate and Barrel for the privilege. So that's why it's a little confusing when one company seems to be pulling the Tom Sawyer painting the fence trick, and asking you to pay them for the honor of a factory gig. What gives?

Local Motors is in town this week, meeting with investors and drumming up public interest in its Rally Fighter car and two-wheeled Racer bike. You can see these kinds of vehicles appealing to the tech and design crowd—creative types who don't want to spend the whole day at their desk coding.

Each vehicle is the product of a online collaboration, according to CEO Jay Rodgers. "We're crowd sourcing everything from design to production," he says. "We have a community of vehicle designers, and we run challenges for them, so that they give us their ideas. Then we build everything in our micro-factory."

The Rally Fighter certainly doesn't look like the product of that dreaded design-by-committe mentality. It's a hybrid—street legal, but also suited for off-road desert racing. With an overall height of almost six feet, it rides tall. It has some oomph too—a 6.2 liter, V8 engine with 430 horsepower. The bike, for which their community submitted 150 designs, is a minimalist take on a Harley Davidson roadster with elements from the 1970's BT44 Formula One racers. That's all a round-about way of saying that both of their vehicles look cool and perform well. Ok, that's all fine, but its the mode of production that leaves some of us confused.

Its sort of troubling, actually. When you order one—the car runs $99,900 and the bike $25,000—you also buy a ticket into their factory, located in Chandler, Arizona. There, Local Motors puts you to work, contributing to more than 50% of the total build. "It's adult Legos," says Rodgers.

It's sort of a head-scratcher. After all, there used to be a whole city in Michigan devoted to the idea that when people built cars for your company, that you had to pay them, not the other way around. But we all know how that model has been working out lately. If you have a spare hundred grand laying around, it seems not much different from those baseball fantasty camps where you get to play with over-the-hill major leaguers, even though you rode the bench in high school. (Or its like shelling out to go to camp to jam with the keyboard player for Peter Frampton and Billy Joel's drummer.) But hey, if you're interested, I'll let you write a blog post for only a couple thousand.

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