What Happened to Local Motors?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Justin Fishkin was the chief strategy officer at Local Motors for seven years (2011 to 2018), then senior advisor for the firm for two years after that.

Local Motors seemed to have it all going for it in terms of what it was doing and how it was doing it.

It was crowd sourcing design. It was using 3D printing to the extent that others were only dreaming about. It was developing vehicles fast. It was putting autonomy into application. It was creating mobility systems.

Olli: Electric. Autonomous. Built in a microfactory. (Image: Local Motors)

From Wired to IMTS Today and an array of media outlets in between, Local Motors was the “it” company in the transportation field.

And a few weeks ago word leaked out that Local Motors was closing up shop.

So on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Fishkin talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET and me about what the company set out to do and what conceivably happened.

One of the primary factors, Fishkin suggests, is that there was a case of mission creep in that the company found itself stretching in different directions as different constituents became involved in the company.

They went from crowdsourcing designs that led to vehicles like the Rally Fighter, 3D printing an entire vehicle (the Strati) then creating Olli, a compact people-mover with autonomous capabilities, and along the way created fans and attracted companies that wanted to get some of the “stuff” that was allowing the company to do what it was doing.

An early intention was to have micromanufacturing capabilities set up as a network such that there would be the development of vehicles that would lend themselves to specific markets. The company ended up having two, in Chandler, Arizona and Knoxville, Tennessee

It also built a demo microfactory in National Harbor; GE Firstbuild built a microfactory in Louisville, Kentucky, with Local Motors’ assistance.

In addition to GE, Local Motors worked with companies including Airbus and Siemens. All of which is to get to the point that this was something real, not speculative.

Its Olli had deployments in Buffalo, New York; Turin, Italy; Sacramento, California; Arlington, Virginia; Holdfast Bay, Australia; Akron, Ohio; Dunedin, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; Clarksburg, Maryland; Yellowstone, Wyoming; Thuwal, Saudi Arabia; Durham, Florida; Marysville, Ohio; Neustadt, Germany; Jacksonville, Florida; Palo Alto, California; Concord, California; Ghent, Belgium; Lake Nona, Florida; Peachtree Corners, Georgia; Peoria, Arizona; Whitby, Canada; Toronto, Canada; and Crozet, Virginia, yet in the broader scheme of things, that is but a handful of places.

Fishkin also talks about his current activities with a startup Future/Of, which is helping, well, startups. One of the companies Fishkin is working with is Biliti, Inc., a company that is producing electric three-wheelers for last-mile transport.

But not just startups, he notes. As he puts it, “Future/Of works with organizations to scale disruptive business models and frontier technologies.” Which established companies can benefit from. And NGOs.

Still, in the context of Local Motors and where it came to, the question becomes where will micromobility and distributed microfactories go? This is a question that Fishkin help provide some solid perspective on.

And you can see it right here.