Monday, March 30, 2009

Tesla Model S

Tesla's latest offering for an Electric Vehicle was introduced last week and in my opinion, I think it's a pretty good one. This of course is relative to what's already out there. Here's a few of the reasons why:

Design - Exotic, elegant styling compared to other EV's currently available.

Passengers - It has capacity for 7 passengers (5 adults, 2 children) and isn't a gas guzzling SUV.

Range - It has a projected range of 300 mi.

Price - They've made the things above happen and put it in range with other similarly positioned non-EV's, making the switch to an EV more attractive to consumers.

However, despite these things, it still doesn't have the "I gotta have it" factor in my mind. Although it has a few elements other EV's either don't have or it has improved on those some do, it's still just another luxury sedan (of which there are so many) to me.

Whether it be and EV we offer in the future, or a more fuel efficient gasoline or diesel powered vehicle, we can offer the customer so much more in the exchange for their money, particularly that connection to the vehicle I've mentioned in the past. I think for people to really desire these types of vehicles (EV, H-EV etc.), that connection has to be realized in some other way than styling, range, number of passengers, and price. Because at the end of the day people want to feel like they're really part of something and are completely plugged in to the auto community they've aligned themselves with. At least for auto enthusiasts if not the majority of auto consumers.

- Where's the chance to have an intimate understanding of how the car works first hand?

- Where's the chance to have some input on how the car is designed, then made?

- Where's the chance to personalize the vehicle?

- Where's the deep-rooted connection and feeling that they've truly spent their money wisely?

If I could learn about the battery technology first hand, actually see it, touch it, maybe even assemble it and then install it, participate in even the smallest detail and it's development, or the ability to customize it post-manufacture, and personalize it with something like a prescription seat, custom paint/vinyl, and it performs as advertised, I'd "have to have it."

Enter Local Motors.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Engineering Essentials - Segment Five (Torque)

So I got talking torque yesterday, and thought that I'd include it as the next installment in the "Engineering Essentials" blog.

Torque is probably one of the most important elements of engineering, particularly in the world of automotive engineering, and more so in the world of LM engineering and the Rally important to the success of the LM Brand and the Rally Fighter.

Torque = Force x Length,

where Torque is defined as the ability to rotate an object about an axis. Length is defined as the distance from that axis that the force to cause the rotation is applied.

To give a practical example of how this works is a door. The hinges are obviously the axis, the door is the object and the handle is where the force is applied. On doors where the handle goes across the entire door, the further away from the axis you push, the less force you have to apply to open the door. So kind of a weird unit that results "lb-ft" but when you think about where it comes from (applying "x" amount of force at "y" feet away from the axis), it makes a little more sense.

We're all "torqued up" at Local Motors about the upcoming Rally Fighter, and I hope you are too, so stay tuned for more updates on how we plan to put it all to use!

Monday, March 23, 2009

World's Cheapest Car

The Tata Nano is finally a reality.

The company announced today that orders are being taken, with delivery set for July. The amazing thing of all this is that the car will cost 100,000 rupees, which is just under $2,000. It's been a little over a year since I first heard of the Nano when I was at the Art Center Summit. At the time I think the cost being discussed was $2,500 to buy a Nano, so to see it come out $500 cheaper is absolutely amazing given the fact that the decrease is 20% of what it was expected to cost at the time. Try to imagine seeing one of the big three introduce a prototype, then be able to reduce cost by that rate....don't hold your breath.

Regardless of the lowered cost, producing a car for $2,000 is certainly no easy feat, so kudos to the Tata team. Although the Rally Fighter is much different from the Nano in a mulititude of ways (mainly styling of course), the cars and the company philosophies have similarities.

- The Tata team was able to focus on what was important to their market and deliver everything they want and nothing they don't need, much like we at LM are trying to accomplish.

- They kept the vehicle lightweight by being open minded to what materials would be used for specific areas of the car.

- They used simple design and simple manufacturing methods to build the cars.

- They "right sized" the vehicle for the task at hand.

That which those in the market for the Rally Fighter and the Nano want from their vehicle differ greatly, but the beauty in these designs will again be the ability to listen to the local customer BEFORE the car goes into production to deliver what they want. Tata has done it in the case of the Nano, and we will continue to do it as we progress toward production of the Rally Fighter.

So there you have it, a common thread amongst two vehicles cut from different cloth. Whether it be Mumbai or Massachusetts...

Go Local!

Friday, March 20, 2009

See the Local Motors "Skunk Works" in Real Time

Friday is your chance to get an inside look at the LM R&D shop, the "skunk works" as it is often referred to. You'll have a chance to get a look at the foam model we used to first get an idea of the proportions of the Rally Fighter, then as a way to test component and occupant packaging.

You'll also get to see the H Point fixture in streaming video, not just still images as I've represented it before.

Also, this isn't just an opportunity to see what's going on in the shop, but you can also ask! See the Vision Blog for more details on how to participate on the live chat.

Tune in at 11:45 AM (EDT, -4 UTC)!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Less Time at the "Pump"

Engineers a short drive up the highway at MIT have discovered a way to make electric vehicles more feasible to consumers. They've revamped the surface structure of Lithium-ion batteries, a popular choice amongst manufacturers of many fields producing battery operated devices, including automobiles. These batteries are a common choice because of their ability to hold a large quantity of energy. However, they require a relatively long amount of time to take a charge, which when it comes to automobiles, means more time at the "pump" when recharging your electric car.

The discovery that the MIT engineers have made allows the battery to be charged in just about as much time as it would take to fill your gas tank, making one of the downfalls of electric vehicles a thing of the past.

Here's a quote from the article detailing the process that allows the quicker charging time:

"Further calculations showed that lithium ions can indeed move very quickly into the material but only through tunnels accessed from the surface. If a lithium ion at the surface is directly in front of a tunnel entrance, there's no problem: it proceeds efficiently into the tunnel. But if the ion isn’t directly in front, it is prevented from reaching the tunnel entrance because it cannot move to access that entrance."

Oh, and did I mention that this process also makes the batteries smaller and lighter? Music to my ears. Take a look at the size of the Chevy Volt's battery:

Imagine the hoops the GM engineers had to jump through to package that monstrosity and how much performance suffered as a result of its weight...not something we're interested in, that's for sure.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rally Fighter Interior Competition Comes to a Close

The Rally Fighter Interior Competition voting came to a close today, and if you take a minute (if you haven't already) to review the entries, you will see that this competition is one of the best examples of how powerful crowdsourcing automotive design can be. Although the winner has not been announced yet, the images below are a random sampling of some of the entries you will see in the competition and are in no particular order.

hnut's "RF Interior"

A lot of feedback from designers, buyers, and engineers on just about every single entry. It's clear that the passion everyone feels for exterior design is far from lost when it comes time to look inward. There are so many different factors that must be considered when designing the interior, particularly with the methods we incorporate here at LM like blending existing components with fresh, progressive designs from the highly skilled community of designers we have. To name just a few:

Ingress/Egress and general Ergonomic factors

Materials - how easy are they to be manufactured? Are they lightweight? Are they sustainable?

Components - Is the design simple, yet elegant? Do they fit the use and style of the vehicle? Are we giving the customer everything they need and nothing they don't want?

"Feel" - I put this in quotes because the actual feel of the materials must fit the vehicle and serve ergonomic purpose, but the overall design must "feel" like it's a match.

Mihai's "InteriorCONCEPT"

At first, when I review the designs, I have a feeling that I have to be a "debbie downer" as they say and point out some of the negative aspects of some of these really amazing designs, particularly when it comes to the use of existing parts and difficulty of manufacturing some components, but that feeling is immediately followed by a feeling of inspiration and elation at the fact that together, we are part of something that has never been done, and frankly, is the way things SHOULD have always been done. By that of course, I mean an open and honest forum in which designers, buyers and engineers can discuss designs to meet the best of all worlds. In the end what I'm helping the designers to do is in the best case scenario, help them to create designs that we could incorporate into our vehicles, not merely criticizing their work. Together, we're not only shaping the car - whether it be the interior or exterior - but shaping a new automotive manufacturing model. Very exciting to say the least.

Many congratulations to all that entered the competition and thanks to those that contributed to making this competition a perfect example of the power of community.

webbo001's "Desrt Storm"

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Combustion Technology from Fiat

Not just for diesels, Fiat has a new technology to improve emissions, fuel economy, and both power and torque output. They're calling this technology MultiAir.

It's been interesting to see not only new diesel technology sprout in recent years, but the development of systems like this that can be used for improved efficiency, power, emissions etc. of combustion engines in general. Other systems would include the use of onboard Hydrogen generation and a whole host of other systems. We will continue to monitor not only new diesel technology, but systems like this that could be used on existing engine platforms for increased efficiency.

Here's a quote from a recent article about the MultiAir system,

"In short, an engine equipped with Fiat MultiAir technology is more powerful, more responsive across the entire engine speed range, uses considerably less fuel, and reduces all types of exhaust emissions by a substantial amount. It will also assist in enabling Fiat to maintain its lead in low emissions and low fuel consumption technology, which has seen Fiat crowned for the past two years as the number one car maker for the lowest range-wide CO2 emissions."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rear Suspension Update

Here are a few images of the newly designed rear suspension. The first photo show the old suspension, which I've posted on before both here and on the Vehicle Build page. The second is the updated suspension, which you will see is a more complete and accurate representation of what is actually going to be used in the Rally Fighter, whereas the previous version was a "quick" mock up.

Previous Suspension

New Suspension

After taking a look at the images, you can see that the new suspension has control arms complete with poly bushings, functional rod ends, and the rear end is the actual rear end complete with rotors, disc brakes etc. versus the previous rear axle which was just a tube with a mock up center section. You can also see that we will have a much stronger triangulated upper arm.

More to come on the development of the rear suspension, and not just with images, but a cool new way we will be keeping you up to date but you'll have to stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Everything You Want and Nothing You Don't Need...Or Not

Here is an article from the New York Times detailing a common marketing practice amongst big automakers.

If you've ever been in the market for a new car, you know that more often than not, to get that one or two options you really want, you have to purchase some bundle of options, thus backing you into a corner of significant cost increase. They usually include things that have nothing to do with each other and give the package names like the "Sun and Sound" package for example, as in a car I once purchased. Initially, I just wanted just the rear spoiler, but had to purchase the "Sun and Sound" package to get it, which included the upgraded stereo system (which gave you 7-way speakers instead of 6, and an upgraded sound system), and a sun roof in addition to the spoiler. Although I grew to like the sunroof, I could have lived without it, and I replaced the speakers and stereo system anyway as planned, so the added couple grand could have been spent elsewhere.

And that doesn't even consider more crucial things like such safety features as ABS, Traction Control or Side Airbags. Whether it be bundling expendable things like sunroofs and stereos or more crucial options such as the safety related systems I mentioned, this practice is absolutely egregious and at the heart of what's wrong with present day automanufacturing. We plan to put an end to it and bring auto manufacturing back to what was once good about the industry in the days of Henry Ford:

Giving the customer everything they need, and nothing they don't want and pricing it accordingly.