The article was originally posted on Springfield News-Sun.
For the past century, many Americans have been accustomed to only the Big 3 — Ford, Chrysler and GM — when it comes to homegrown automakers, but in the last few years technology has added new lanes to the highway, so to speak. The new vehicle-manufacturing landscape is not one of scale just yet (Tesla sold more than 76,000 cars in 2016. By comparison, GM sold nearly 10 million), but one of opportunity.
No where is this more evident than in Las Vegas at the global technology show CES, where money expert Clark Howard and team are witnessing first-hand the companies driving innovation.
Meet Olli, the multi-passenger autonomous shuttle
Local Motors, a Phoenix, Arizona-based tech company that focuses on co-creating vehicles through what it calls “low volume manufacturing,” is at CES this week showing off Olli, its self-driving shuttle bus. The company sees Olli as a solution for travel within neighborhoods, college campuses and urban centers.
Unlike the assembly line of yesteryear, Local Motors builds Olli with the help of customers and like-minded innovators, meaning its design is open-source. On its website, the company calls it “an active process where brands and their customers work together with solvers, designers, and engineers to accelerate product and technology development.”
With a handful of microfactories in places like Knoxville, Tennessee; National Harbor, Maryland; and Tempe, Arizona, Local Motors has secured $1 billion in financing to build its vehicles, including third-party operational support to keep them on the roads.
Started in 2008 by retired Marine and Harvard Business School grad Jay Rogers, the company has struck partnerships with some of the biggest corporations in the United States, including IBM, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and the Army. Local Motors has printed an operational 3-D vehicle as well as all-terrain tanks for the military.
Speaking to Forbes last year, Rogers said what makes his company different is that it listens to what people want and invites them to help turn it into a reality. “It is about changing a 100-year paradigm in mass manufacturing. We are now using the crowd. We are using a bespoke community that we build with suppliers and customers. Then we are changing the way we think about manufacturing.”
The company is touting an accessible Olli, which can help the elderly and those with impairments with their mobile needs. “And with IBM Watson helping with the interactions, it certainly is friendly,” it says on its website.