SEMA 2009: Local Motors To Introduce Rally Fighter Off-Roader
November 2, 2009
There are many ways to approach automotive enthusiasm, and for a great deal of enthusiasts, it's a do-it-yourself approach. From the folks who change their own oil to those who build kit cars or wild customs, pride in ownership is rampant in the car enthusiast world. Now, a company by the name of Local Motors is taking that mantra to a whole new level with the Rally Fighter.
The Rally Fighter is the brainchild of the collective talent of Local Motors' online members. On the company's Web site, its members have submitted designs, hashed out ideas and voted on specifications. The culmination of their efforts and site member Sangho Kim's winning design is the company's first vehicle, the Rally Fighter, a lightweight, environmentally friendly, purpose-built off-roader designed with the Southwestern United States in mind.
Powered by the same drivetrain as our long-term BMW 335d, the Rally Fighter uses BMW's 3.0L twin-turbo diesel inline-six with its 265 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque mated to its six-speed automatic transmission powering the rear wheels. The clean diesel engine and relatively light 3,200-lb curb weight should make the Rally Fighter easy on the wallet when you hit the pump. In fact, the company is confident that the off-roader will be fuel-efficient enough to pull of 36 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg off-road.
Giving the Rally Fighter its off-road cred is a double A-arm front suspension and three-link solid rear-axle all riding on coilover shocks and springs with 18-inches of travel up front and 20-inches of travel in the rear. It rides on 17-in. wheels with 13-in. front brakes clamped by dual-piston calipers and 13.7-in. rear brakes clamped by single-piston calipers. The ride height is manually adjustable with a difference of 8 inches between the two settings. All of it holds up a tubular steel frame covered by a fiberglass and carbon-fiber body that's covered in a vinyl wrap rather than paint, as it's lighter, cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
At 189 inches long and 80 inches wide, the Rally Fighter is significantly longer and wider than a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, though they're about the same height if the Rally Fighter is set to its taller ride height setting. In fact, it's about the same size as a BMW X6, though it's 1,500-lbs lighter than either of these vehicles. The trio share a wheelbase that is within an inch of each other.
The real story of the Rally Fighter, though, is in its design and construction. Not that long ago, the dawn of the Internet and its ability to connect people instantly around the world gave rise to a new way of developing software known as "open source." Rather than leave development to software companies, open source development allows anyone to contribute to the design. While designing an intangible such as software was relatively easy over the Internet, it's not an easy concept to apply to manufacturing, but the attempt is being made anyway.
Last year, we reported on Project Splitwheel, a collaborative effort with British carmaker Caterham that aimed to have online participants design a car that Caterham would build. The effort, though, appears to have fallen apart, but the idea is still alive. At Local Motors, though, the concept is being taken much, much further and is now being called "crowdsourcing." Not only will Local Motors online members design their vehicles, but owners will actually help build them at "microfactories" around the country.
The concept works like this: Members of the Local Motors website contribute design ideas and specifications that are voted on by the membership. Winners of monthly contests are enticed with cash prizes ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 and recognition of their work. The ultimate design winner gets another $10,000 and the notoriety of being the designer of an all-new vehicle. Buyers then put down $99 to reserve a build number and when their turn is up, they're asked to make a $5,000 deposit and head over to the local microfactory to build their vehicle. At the microfactory, Local Motors experts will help the customer literally build their own vehicle, from welding the frame to dropping in the motor to bolting on the wheels. All of the equipment is provided and the experts can either be your guide if you've never built a car before or an assistant if you've got plenty of build experience under your belt. Local Motors says that you can finish your car in just two weekends, pay the remaining balance on the estimated $50,000 price tag and drive your baby home. For service, just swing by the microfactory and grab a wrench.
While the first vehicles will be built at the company's headquarters in Massachusetts, Local Motors hopes to open its first microfactory somewhere in the Southwest where locals can come build their Rally Fighters. The Rally Fighter itself was designed with the Southwest and Baja racing in mind, hence the location of the first microfactory. Provided the concept works, Local Motors will collectively design more vehicles that appeal to other groups of enthusiasts in other regions and hopes to eventually have 25 to 50 microfactories around the country.
Overall, the Local Motors concept is designed to redo the car building process. There are no big factories, nor are there dealerships. Customers build their own cars the way they want them in local microfactories, there is no mass production and the entire process substantially reduces development and operating costs. Local Motors says that the Rally Fighter took just 18 months to conceive and build, cost just $2 million to develop and already has 31 orders.
The first Local Motors Rally Fighter will debut this week at the 2009 SEMA show in Las Vegas, where we hope to learn more about the company's plans. We're curious to see, should the concept catch on, how the company will handle safety and other requirements mandated by the Department of Transportation, especially if the company plans to build road-going vehicles in the future.
Stay tuned to TruckTrend.com all this week for complete coverage of the 2009 SEMA show, live from Las Vegas.