World’s First 3-D Printed Car Takes to the Streets

By Carl Engelking | September 29, 2014 2:28 pm
(Credit: Local Motors)

A prototype of the Strati, a 3-D printed vehicle. (Credit: Local Motors)

Henry Ford’s assembly line famously transformed the automobile industry in the 20th century – and a new company is hoping to bring about a similar revolution in the 21st, with its recently unveiled 3-D printed vehicle.

The company is Local Motors, designers of the Strati. The car was printed in about 44 hours on site earlier this month at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago. In contrast to the thousands of components in a traditional vehicle, the Strati consists of fewer than 50 parts. Most of its body is built from extruded plastic of the kind that Lego bricks are made of.

That makes it both drastically simpler, and potentially cheaper in the future, than conventional cars. “If this works, even a little, it will reform parts or all of the industry,” Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers told Fox News.

A Simpler, Streamlined Build

The Strati is a sleek two-seated, roofless electric vehicle that weighs about 2,200 pounds with all its non-printed parts attached. Most of the car was constructed in a shipping container-sized 3-D printer, which used nozzles to squirt layer after layer of a carbon-reinforced thermoplastic to construct the chassis from the ground up. The end product looks a lot like a topographic map of an Italian roadster (see the assembly video below).

The primary advantage of 3-D printing the Strati is that most of the chassis components are already complete after it comes off the printer. Once the steering wheel, shocks, tires, electric motor are all quickly installed, it can be driven off the lot.

The Strati can reach speeds of about 40 miles per hour and can travel 120 miles on a charge, but a gas engine could also be fitted. Local Motors expects the Strati to retail for about $18,000.

The main components of the Strati. (Credit: Local Motors)

The main components of the Strati. (Credit: Local Motors)

The Future of Buying a Car

Reducing the number of parts required to build a vehicle would lower costs and streamline production. Further, vehicle designs could be rapidly altered without waiting for a supply of new parts to be machined.

More alluring, however, is the very realistic notion that you could pick all the specifications you need in a new vehicle, press print, and drive it home the same day. Heck, you could even print a car from home; the Strati design is publicly available.

However that’s some way off. For one thing, the Strati’s current materials aren’t really feasible for production, as Local Motors engineer James Earle explained to the New York Times:

When asked what would happen in a crash, though, Mr. Earle, driving the two-seat car, said it would be like a rock slamming against a brick wall.

However, Local Motors hopes to continue improving its thermoplastic recipe to improve strength and safety. Tinkerers, start your engines.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
  • pfisher2

    This is a novel idea, but what do you do when you get damage from a car accident? Do you have to print an entire new chassis?

    • Dale Finn

      why not reprint an entire new body? if you build a stable motor & plug in an iPad and off you go in whatever you just printed.

      oh no…. advertisers to let you drive their logo car for a small fee. sorry bill hicks. #rip

  • Rod DeValcourt

    great that you get programmers to design the program to print it and to get street legal you have to give one to the government’s insurance safety institute which will crash it with crash test dummies which then sets insurance rates before you can ship/print one. you also need to have what automotive engineers have been doing for decades – improving the engineering to the point of safety that we have now. If it’s “…a rock hitting a wall…” that means its got a ways to go…

    • RealMrTea

      They engineer them digitally now…. The entire car (and boats, and planes) are built in 3 dimensions, virtually in a computer before one is ever put together….

      Nothing about that needs to change. Nor does the testing, certification, etc…The only difference is the manufacturing process…

  • Uncle Al

    The 10,000th part to exit a 3D printer cost every penny as much as the first. The 10,000th part to exit an injection molder costs its raw material and energy. Fast, too.

    ABS plastic is unstable to sunlight. “Failure of automobile seat belts caused by polymer degradation” Engineering Failure Analysis 6(1) 13 (1999). doi:10.1016/S1350-6307(98)00026-0

    “40 mph, 120 miles on a charge, about $18,000.” Honda Civic LX, 90 mph sustained no problem, 430 miles in the gas tank, $20,000.

    • jambali

      I’m sure that someone noticed that a horse ran faster than the first airplane also.

      • Uncle Al

        On foot I can beat any horse in a race: 100 meters with lots of 180 degree turns. Application matters. The Concorde was a poor joke with a protracted punchline.

  • Jerfus Rogbowe

    They’ll need 3D printed hospitals to handle all the people hurt when this thing crashes. “Loco Triage”

  • danielgeery

    Tie this to Amory Lovins’ “hypercar” and we could be rolling down the road for the cost of a Starbuck’s latte… or damn close to it! [Google the AL hypercar if you aren’t familiar with it.]

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    The video sucks, but the car styling and construction methods are neat. Would like to see more information and a better video! Next time, get a professional to shoot the video!

  • Shalryn

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but when a rock hits a brick wall, doesn’t it just ricochet off unharmed or with minimal damage? Given that, my greatest concern would be the effect of sun on the vehicle over time. The sun degrades all plastics, and you can’t drive indoors all the time.

  • Alan

    My biggest concern as this technology progresses is that the materials used can be easily recycled and reused to make new products. The design concept of fewer parts and monolithic materials is inherently easier to separate the various materials upon deconstruction. 3D printing is going to result in more custom products made and more quickly discarded. It would be wonderful if we could set up standards for the materials so that recycling would be efficient and low cost. Then we could play with new designs and make new things to our hearts’ content yet easily put it all back in the machine to make new stuff the next day. Think children playing with legos or playdoe. Make whatever your imagination can come up with, then take it apart and start all over again. Let’s not permanently glue the legos together or mash up the different playdoe colors and make grey goo, please!


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