As many of you know we presented our concept of a modular, open source hardware platform for the open development of a new generation of EV in October 2013, during the first European Maker Faire in Rome.
At that time, the excitement about our approach to the huge opportunity of transforming the automotive industry was amazingly received and, honestly, the following two years have been quite a ride in terms of customer engagement, growing community interest and projects that spurred, of which many are now under development.
The incredible interest that our project generated might be among the driving reasons that, earlier in January this year at the CES, pushed Faraday Future — one of the brightest emerging disruptors in the automotive industry — to present alongside its batmobile-ish prototype a more or less clear “platform” inspired value proposition (dubbed: Variable Platform Architecture).
Faraday Future is the most recent in a bunch of incredible projects that — among the most different funding and business strategies — are aiming to say something radically new in the automotive industry.
The pioneers that are innovating automotive
Despite its very pioneering and not completely business-oriented approach (it looks like the team is more concerned about innovating the process of designing and building hardware more than selling cars) we all owe Joe Justice’s Wikispeed project a whole load of inspiration as the team demonstrated that you can really apply lean and agile thinking to the whole manufacturing and design process of a vehicle; I’m sure that the insights that they brought to light will be enormously useful in a future that will of course feature the possibility for independent, smart and local self-manufacturing of vehicles.
We’re also glad that a great team such as that of Local Motors is deploying a functional network of mini-factories around the world and pushing forward the limits of additive manufacturing in the production process: that strategy looks really in line with their vision to empower people co-design their products since additive manufacturing will generally imply less and less personalization limitations and potentially reduce waste and make most of the car totally recyclable with evident positive impacts on the environment.
On the other hand we’ve radical innovators such as the team at Riversimple — with its Rasa model coming up publicly just today (17th of Feb) — that are approaching mobility with a “whole system” design thinking strategy that can deliver an impressive results even if it’s likely to remain niche, with hydrogen powered engines and a very specific, branded, vehicle-as-a-service offering.
But what does it mean to be a great platform for innovation, for real?
“Platforms” in automotive aren’t a really new proposition after all: incumbents have been sharing platforms in the closed environment of their strategic partnership agreements for decades; this has allowed them to share production lines, designs, innovation processes but has ended up creating a market in which all cars are different yet all the same.
Look at how many models are based on the GM/Fiat “Small” Platform.
So, when we first saw the VPA from Faraday Future we happily welcomed their approach, but suddenly noticed that a lot of complementary aspects of being an enabling platform for innovation were lacking. I’ll try to explain why.
If there’s something we’ve learnt in the last couple of years, is that if you really want to innovate automotive you need to put a lot of attention on enabling an industry that is not here yet. Beyond providing an hardware platform that is just another choice for those that already manufacture cars or just another potential closed, expensive, powertrain to those who are entering this business, we understand that you need to pay a great deal of attention at helping people realize that they can actually envision, build and experiment with innovation in mobility. This applies not only to how a vehicle is designed but also to what a vehicle can do and how it can be incorporated in an infinite number of niche endeavors ranging from special agricultural needs to safety and rescue, from tourism to sport cars, small scale car-sharing and more.
We learnt that while it’s important to produce an easily assemblable drivetrain that you can put together in less than one hour , it’s equally important to provide customers with the possibility to serenely use a design that can be embedded in a commercial product (as open source) and to help them with a staged service offering that is able to “empower” them to envision, design, prototype, get funding and scale to small scale, local manufacturing and that this process will always involve a number of specialized partners ranging from smart designers, prototyping facilities, suppliers and more.
We also learnt that to really change the way vehicles are built and automotive solutions are designed we need to leave the door open to those who want to create a different way of producing, manufacturing and servicing cars and that we need to do that by leveraging on existing infrastructures such as one room workshops, small underused and already existing manufacturing facilities and even fablabs or textile factories.
We decided to give up competition with our customer, create no brand that can become thousands brands, and create a company that really wants to nurture a new way to generate infinite solutions for infinite human mobility problems, solutions based on a common set of skills, a shared commons of designs, and on our capability to educate, support and empower people all over the world, not only in highly technological western countries, empowering them to produce the next revolution in human mobility, by themselves.