When the news broke earlier this spring that a company named “Local Motors” would soon set up shop at 11 Market Square, many of us had a difficult time figuring out just what that meant. Were they a car company? What was up with the adult tricycles pictured on the window-coverings? And then we saw something about home furnishings. What?
The confusion continues. I dropped into the store and overheard a person asking, “but what do I buy in here?” I think I might be able to help a little bit thanks to the very friendly help of Samantha Hatcher, a native Knoxvillian and the first person to be hired in this store and Jenna Burns, the Mobi Factory Process Development Manager, who’s been sent to Knoxville to get the new location up and running.
So, let’s sort it out. The company’s slogan is “A World of Vehicle Innovations,” which tells you a good bit. It’s all about any kind of vehicle you can imagine. Samantha, who clearly needs a promotion, put it this way, “We make what moves you.” I thought that was a pretty good summary of what they are up to.
The various modes of transportation begin hitting you from your first step inside the store. Those adult tricycles? They’ve got them. Electric powered, not pedal-powered, they look sort of like a grown-up version of a big wheel and I’m guessing they appeal to a certain set of people in their twenties. Samantha noted that she could completely picture Johnny Knoxville riding a turbo-charged version down a steep hill in the city.
A motorcycle is planted firmly in the center of the entrance and its design begs the question of its origins. It turns out that Local Motors holds design contests among its 30,000 strong online community and the winning design gets developed and marketed. This particular motorcycle, which features a Harley Engine and at least one component manufactured by a 3D printer, was the winner of a recent contest. It’s a fearsome looking machine.
Nearby, 3D printers worked their magic while we talked. I’d never seen one and I found it interesting watching it work its magic. The one I watched worked away at building a bracelet. So what does that have to do with anything mobile? It gets to the root, actually, of why the company was interested in having a presence in our area: the Nearby presence of ORNL with whom they are working to build a car constructed by a 3D printer. The current contest involves developing a 3D printer that will print carbon fiber.
The current centerpiece of this vehicular universe is the Local Motors Rally Fighter. It’s a street-legal off-road desert racer with a corvette engine. What makes it unique. Well, the construction isn’t your ordinary construction, then there’s the $100,000 price tag. And here’s another thing: After you pay $100,000 what you get is the chance to come to one of the factories (Las Vegas or Arizona) and build one yourself. A five-person team, with help from a wiki and two company employees can build one in a week. After that, the electrical parts are added and the car is shipped. Alternately, $19,500 will buy you a car-in-a-box for your self-assembling pleasure. Engine not included.
So, who would buy such a vehicle? Well, first of all it doesn’t hurt to be rich and then there’s another quality best summed up by the words I continually heard used by the ladies to describe their customers: Gear Heads, Motor Heads and Car Chicks. And did I mention they have to have money? The cars have been popular in Dubai. Jenna said about 100 have been sold which may not sound like much until you consider that represents abotu $10,000,000 if they were built in the factory, which she says is most common. The cars are popular in Dubai, which makes sense given the money and the fact that the cars are built for the desert.
You might wonder what gives the company the “local” in “Local Motors.” The concept is that eventually dozens of manufacturing centers will be located across the country and each will feature “local” designs, or vehicles made with the particular region in mind. We don’t have much need for a desert racer, for example, but we’d love us a home-grown monster-truck.
The rest of the store primarily has related items: helmets for your triking or cycling pleasure, back packs, athletic/sports wear. They have a selection of high-tech skateboards. And they have wine glasses, which seemed disconnected to me until Samantha and Jenna pointed out that each glass has a gear as its base. It’s sort of steam-punk stemware. They also carry purses and I never was able to make that connection, though the ladies told me the store will carry a range of uniquely designed uber cool items, so I guess that’s the category into which the purses fall.
I highly recommend a visit there. The 3D printers are worth the price of admission, the ladies are friendly and you might pick up a unique means of transportation while you’re there. You certainly won’t walk out complaining it’s just a store like all the others. That’s one thing you can’t say.