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Start-up plans to release 3D-printed, street-ready cars next year

Lucas Mearian | July 14, 2015
An Arizona custom car company hopes to produce what it calls the first 3D-printed, street-ready vehicle early next year.

Swim 3D printed car
An artist's rendition of the "Swim" model of the ReLoad Redacted 3D printed car. Credit: Local Motors

An Arizona custom car company hopes to produce what it calls the first 3D-printed, street-ready vehicle early next year.

Local Motors is readying a "neighborhood" electric car to go on sale sometime during the first quarter of next year. A highway-ready, higher-speed version will go on sale later in the year, a spokesman said. As with a previous car design that was not 3D printed, Local Motors held a contest to design the newer vehicles, both of which it calls ReLoad Redacted.

Kevin Lo, an engineer living in Vancouver, Wash., won with his design for two models: The Swim, which looks like a dune buggy, and the Sport, a sleek-looking 2+2 coupe. Lo also happens to work for Hewlett-Packard on advanced printer systems. The designs of the finished cars may ultimately differ, however, according to a Local Motors spokesman.

While the 3D-printed cars may look sporty, the ReLoad Redacted vehicles will not be tearing up roads with their speed. The battery-powered neighborhood vehicles will have a top speed of between 25mph and 35mph and will be priced between $18,000 and $30,000.

A faster vehicle is expected to follow the initial, lower-speed models, the company said, but didn't specify what the faster speed would be. It is "likely" the highway-ready version of the vehicle will be electric, the Local Motors spokesman said, but "we are also experimenting with other technologies as well. Theoretically, we are creating a car ... that could support various powertrains."

Industry analyst Terry Wohlers applauded Local Motors' efforts, calling them "interesting and bold," and saying "it's pushing the limits of what's possible." But, he said, it's also misleading to call Local Motors cars 3D-printed.

"Many (and maybe most) of the parts in the car are not 3D-printed. Even so, it's impressive work and I fully support what Jay Rogers and his company are doing," said Wohlers, founder of research firm Wohlers Associates.

Generally, 3D printing processes are relatively slow when compared to high-volume production processes like injection molding, where molten metal or plastics are poured into a mold, Wohlers said.

However, Local Motors is using what's known as the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) process used by fabricator Cincinnati Inc. and developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which can be far faster than traditional 3D printing methods.

Nor is Local Motors the first to develop 3D printing processes for car manufacturing. The Urbee by Jim Kor and the follow-up KOR EcoLogic were the first cars with a body that was 3D printed.

Earlier this month, Rezvani Motors unveiled The Blade, what it called a "super sports car" that features many 3D-printed parts. Rezvani Motors claims the car can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds -- faster than a Bugatti Veyron and anything that Ferrari makes.


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