3D-Printed Car Rocks Detroit Motor Show
Niche motor manufacturer Local Motors wowed the audience at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit by demonstrating their 3D-printed car.
The car was actually printed right on the stand at the show, taking around 44 hours to be completed. The car's frame is printed from a mixture of carbon fibre and plastic 'ink'. The car, called the Strati, is then completed with a battery, electric motor and running gear from Renault and can reach speeds of up to 25mph. It can also be built in what the company is terming 'micro-factories' of just 40,000 sq ft. The Strati is thought to be the first 3D-printed car, and Phoenix-based Local Motors hopes also to be the first company to make 3D-printed cars on a commercial basis for sale to the public.
Local Motors has already begun to implement its plans to open up a micro-factory in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a second plant near the US capital of Washington DC. According to the company's CEO, Jay Rogers, the Strati will go on sale as soon in late 2015 and will sell for £12,000 to £20,000, depending on specification. The company also hopes that it will be able to achieve economies of scale and bring down the costs of producing the car. This, it hopes, will make it a more attractive and economical proposition for anyone considering an electric car purchase. Rogers is on record as previously saying that digital manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing represent the future for manufacturing in developed countries like the USA. He says that the technology can be applied to other industries and that this will result in the reversal of the recent trend to base manufacturing in developing countries such as China, thus creating far more manufacturing jobs in the West.
The Strati is only one of some 700 cars being shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, widely regarded as one of the most important car shows in the world. The event is a haven for traditional 'petrol heads', but more recently technology, such as 3D printing, is beginning to be just as important as horsepower in attracting buyers. This is because the big car makers are worried that today's young adults are just not as interested as their parents were in buying the latest cars. In fact, the statistics show that younger people drive 23% less than previous generations. To reverse this trend, the car manufacturers are determined to ape the hip technology companies such as Apple and come up with products that excite this younger generation.
Younger drivers are far less interested in 0-60 times, horsepower or top speeds and instead are more interested in staying in touch with their communities and friends. This means that new cars need to be networked and more connected. According to Gary Silberg, automotive consultant at KPMG, whoever manages to get this mix right will dominate the car market in the years to come. Mercedes chief Dieter Zetsche puts it another way and says that in future cars will be like a smartphone with wheels.
At the moment, only 10% of new cars come connected to the internet, but industry observers say that this number will rise to something in excess of 90% as soon as 2020. This will create an epic battle for dominance of the technology market to create connected cars, much like the operating-system battle that occurred between Apple and Microsoft all those years ago. Apple may still be involved in this battle, with the tech giants such as itself and Google lining up against the big motor manufacturers in a bid to dominate the car tech market.
The division lines between the world of motoring and technology are beginning to blur as more and more technology finds its way into our cars and companies such as Google start to develop driverless cars. At the same time, the traditional car-manufacturing companies are coming up with their own technologies. In the future, car shows and tech shows may become one and the same.