To The Stratosphere & Beyond:</br> 3D Printing & The Future Of Cars
Pioneering A Printed Future

I can recall an anti-piracy ad some years ago that read ‘You wouldn’t download a car!’ to which the Internet responded ‘I would if I could!’ Well Internet, soon you might be able to. Introducing the Local Motors Strati, the world’s first 3D printed car…

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3D printing has started to become commonplace, having been adopted by schools and universities for educational purposes, as well as by major manufacturers of all kinds for research and development. Large scale uses of 3D printing however, are still rare.

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It would only be a matter of time before someone printed a car, and it has finally happened thanks to a unique open source company called Local Motors.

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It’s called the Strati, and its body and fenders are printed with what’s called a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine. The BAAM is like a large-scale version of the MakerBot 3D printers many people now have in their homes.

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The printed components of the car take about 44 hours of production time to be completed. That might sound like a while, but the more traditional processes of full scale prototyping require much more time, hands-on work, and financial expense. 3D printers can print based off CAD files that could be created in an afternoon and printed by the next day depending on the scale and complexity of what has been designed. This allows manufacturers to rapidly test new part designs in an inexpensive way.

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As you can see, the surfacing of the car is pretty rough compared to the sheet metal we’re so used to seeing. This is due to the nature of the 3D printing process – especially on this larger scale. The BAAM machine lays down thicker layers of material than the more common small printers which is why parts of the Strati look like a topographical map.

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Local Motors chose to machine certain surfaces of the car to a smoother finish to accentuate design characteristics, which works really well in my opinion. As rough as the texture of the unmachined surfaces are, I like seeing it because it’s indicative of the car’s unique manufacturing process.

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Made up of less than 50 major components, the Strati’s simplistic approach to its construction is a refreshing shift from the arguably over-complex cars of today.

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The Strati is a completely driveable prototype. It has the drivetrain and suspension from a Renault Twizy – a city car that is technically classified in Europe as a ‘Heavy Quadricycle.’

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Not many people have been given the chance to drive it yet, but I found out that I was going to be lucky enough to be one of the first few outside of the company to get behind the wheel. But before that, it was time for a race.

Driving Impressions & Forthcoming Possibilities
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Specifically a drag race against Local Motors’ fantastic electric drift trike, the Verrado (look it up, you’ll want one!).

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We lined up with the trike and on three launched down the parking lot at an absolutely blistering pace of what must have been at least 5 or 10 miles per hour. Speed slowly climbed though, and we possibly got into the 20s…

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Sadly the Strati was no match for the lightweight Verrado, which handily beat us to the finish line.

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The Strati isn’t exactly a firebreather, in fact it’s just the opposite. For those who don’t know, the Renault from which it gets its engine is an electric car with two powertrain options rated at 5hp and 17hp respectively. Only two Strati were in existence when I visited Local Motors, and this one has the less powerful option, hence the big loss at the drag strip.

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After the race it was my turn to drive the Strati for a quick hands-on experience. Driving the car felt pretty normal while in motion, it was very solid over bumps and managed turns with poise. It feels very rigid in a way that evokes a sense of quality about its construction.

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I must admit that I was initially weary of the strength of the material that the Strati is manufactured from. To me, it seemed like the plastic could flex in a way that was off-putting, but that wasn’t at all the case. The Strati was creak free, even at this early stage.

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As I started to get comfortable with it, I had to remind myself that this was a million dollar prototype that I was certainly not prepared to afford to fix. I took great care while pulling it back in to its parking spot in front of the factory entrance.

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So it’s not an amazing performer, but it feels like a real car that works, and works well. To me just the fact that something like the Strati now exists is exciting enough. It’s the first of its kind, a rough sketch of what the future of automobiles could look like.

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I don’t expect 3D printing to completely take over traditional automotive manufacturing processes for major companies like Toyota or Ford, but it creates an exciting realm of possibilities for smaller companies like Local Motors. The flexibility that 3D printing affords allows for great levels of individual customization. This means that a customer could drastically personalize the look of the car as well as make modifications that might not appeal to the majority of car buyers.

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Even more exciting than that though – to me at least – is what 3D printing could mean for the restoration of cars. Plastic parts have been used in cars for more than half a century – and more and more as time has gone on. Today’s owners of cars from the ’80s are likely to be very familiar with cracking plastic interior pieces and dusty ancient circuitry causing a myriad of inconveniences.

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Once 3D printers become accurate enough to reproduce these long-since-discontinued parts, you’ll be able to replicate them without even having to leave the house. We already have 3D printers that can print other materials like metal (the titanium tailpipe end piece fitted to Koenigsegg’s One:1 is a great example) which further broadens the horizon of the types of parts we will be able to create.

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There could be entire companies that simply sell the CAD models of these specific parts to the public so that we can print them at home. I hope to see printers get to the point where they can print entire circuit boards and major engine components. I like the idea of a future where cars like R32 Skylines or E46 M3s aren’t doomed to the junkyard because of parts scarcity.

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3D printing in general is extraordinarily exciting, and I think it will continue to change the car world. Having had some hands-on time with the Strati makes me feel like the future isn’t so far away. There are many exciting years ahead for the automotive universe and the potential-packed Strati is just a small sneak peek in to that future. I can’t wait!

Otis Blank
Instagram: @otisblank

Photos by Otis Blank & Alyx Shea

Dedicated in loving memory to my dear friend and favorite photo buddy Alyx Shea.

Cutting Room Floor
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we got a long way to go.


Some months ago, I had a Twizy for a couple of days, and can report that is great fun in city traffic.
As a plus, you can park everywhere.
Here's the thing...


That is going to need a lot of filler puddy.


this car has all you need =)


Ten years down the line when manufacturers notice we are printing copies of their cars, we have to agree to license terms that say we have only paid for the right to use the car, we are not legally allowed to look at its internals.


Hell No! Why is this article on this site? Lame people....


cutterjones13 This is not lame at all, its extremely exciting!  Just imagine for example one day you need a replacement wing/fender or turbo at the last minute the day before your track day, nightmare! Now what do you do? Download, print, install, happy days :)
Think of the possibilities man!


Wings and fenders I can see, but turbos are a long, long way off.


Once the resolution becomes better on plastic printing (smoother), think of all the old, non-available OEM interior parts that can be made. Then think of all the custom parts that can be made.  No need to mold and lay fiberglass for a custom dash or spoiler when a smooth, seamless one can be printed.


ok you SPEEDhunters but i've seen this thing moving... don't scream speed to me.


j_tso Yes im sure turbos are a long way off for the average joe to print, but Koenigsegg is already doing this ;)


j_tso maxvr6 cutterjones13 Maxvr6 beat me to the
turbo link but I know from experience that company’s like Materialise have manufactured
laser sintered conrods out of titanium with honeycomb internal lattice structures
for upper echelon motorsport applications. I have spoken on a rep and he has no
doubt that you could in theory an entire engine block/turbo housing could be
built in one piece with all water/oil lines housed internally with in the block
as well as massive weight saving where possible through use of honeycomb
As cutterjones13 said. A
world where you can flip through an online catalogue of parts for your car and
print what you need in your own home is not far away.


This stuff is cool.

Computers are very useful tools, but they've never EXCITED and INSPIRED me the way cars do. 

I've always approached them with a begrudging attitude, the way one would tackle a homework assignment for sixth-grade math class. It's necessary, but your mind is really somewhere else during the exercise.

I don't play video games, I don't own a smartphone and I just can't get excited about apps. 

I love DRIVING. I love MACHINERY - gears, pistons, rotors. I'd rather get out and drive or spend a week of evenings slowly and carefully building an engine in my garage than learn to code.

That being said, I feel like I'm watching Henry Ford build his first prototype car here. The possibilities are amazing and inspiring, and not just for cars.

I'm firmly in the "it's the 21st Century, where's my damn jetpack?" camp and consider smartphones and the internet to be consolation prizes compared to the rocket ships, fusion reactors and flying cars we were supposed to have by now, but this stuff really does energize me on emotional level.

I don't care about authenticity - I just want to park an R34 Skyline and a Diablo in my garage. If this technology helps me do that, then I say go for it.

Good article.


Would love to see a crash test...


Derelict About the same as the Twisty, which you wouldn't do a crash test of an ATV or Motorcycle. I agree with the idea that our replacement parts will soon need to be printed at home, rather than wait for it to be made by the original factory... Think of the duty and brokerage you could save!


Derelict or an Moose Test


Amen to the note on the crappy 80's interior plastic. I could probably save a few hundred $s if I bought one of those 3D printers to replace all of the stuff that keeps snapping off every time I pull out my dash!


Other Will This scare is in place today... it's soon not just your warranty you void when you remap your ECU, but you've broken the EULA by doing it as well... Think about the lawsuits against GM for faulty ignition switches, and then think about what kind of safety testing we are doing when modding our car electronics... We are in the grey area of the law soon, and I for one look forward to the day when we are responsible to ourselves for parts. 

Insurance is going to be the real problem. Think about the hoops people go through today to get a kit car insured...


Well..the website motto says "Car culture at large", not "Car culture whre the car must have 1000+hp and air suspension"


Looks like a golf cart to me.  I can see how this could be important but I must say the technology needs to catch up for it to take hold.


cool to see prototyping on such a large (and cheap) scale. 
think about how long and costly it would be for someone to fabricate the body design in a finished form.
this is something where they could do a redesign in a matter of days, rather than weeks. neat idea, albeit still crude.


it's cool we have 3d printers at my school


This car is very impressive for what it is but I don't care for the look of it BUT I think its a great step into the future. When I first read that this car cost a million dollars I laughed at how much something so ugly could cost BUT I realized that history is repeating itself. Take cell phones for example, first cell phone to come out 40 years ago cost $4,000 and it was ugly as all sin but look at cell phones now. The cheapest, simplest cell phone can be had for nothing and can out perform cell phones 40 years ago. So for what this car is, I love it!!

imagine a day when we can download the best looking body kit from home and slap on our car the next day, that's freaking AWESOME!!! None of us would have to wait for the kit to be made, wait for it to be packaged and wait for it to arrive at our door. ALSO, we can do a better job at keeping our favorite things because we can save the CAD files on a computer.

sorry for the big lettering, I just think this is a cool idea


maxvr6 cutterjones13 agreed. this is the beginning of something. take a look at the first car


"...Once 3D printers become accurate enough to reproduce these long-since-discontinued parts, you’ll be able to replicate them without even having to leave the house..."
I've already had some parts for my 280z replicated this way, and only expect this to become more commonplace in the various circles of enthusiasts that some makes/models enjoy.


Needs more Rotiform......but in all honesty, surely it could have been made to look a little better?

Very cool to see this being done.....I wonder where it will take us and what will be able to be done in the future?


you could start by build the parts and then putting them together and then mold real versions


you can also 3d print your house now, so you can this car inside it.


Bima Leksono Bags are for posing... and id be quite happy with this if it had just 300hp at the wheels...


Doesn't seem like it could travel fast enough for the moose to even notice being hit, haha.
This is awesome not for its speed, beauty or safety; but for the fact it was actually done.


While reading this- the first thing I thought of was data piracy. Sure you may be able to download plotting programs for a bumper filler panel for a 70s car that is often overlooked for restore. What is keeping the person that purchases that data from making more and selling it on eBay.

Copywriter law and data sharing will be hard to enforce after the parts are made.

I want someone to create a printed pet. When I see replicant organisms- that will impress me!  -- he said jokingly.

Great article- great website!


I just saw a renault twizy today and didn't know what it was. Few hours later and I read about it here haha. Very strange car!


Here's the other Strati with wheels by Fifteen52


LanceVance  Hey Lance - where did you get repo parts 3d printed?  I have a '75 280z I'm working on - thanks man!


Check out, there a couple small scale operations (read guy in a garage) that have begun making a few small parts. Feel free to join the forum and PM me as well.


Awesome - guy in garage sounds like the kind of business I'd be proud to support. Thanks again Lance!


Like a lil VW buggy for the street. 
Can't wait to see how far this model goes, I would actually drive one around my town. 
Awesome work to the builders.


I watched them print and assemble this car live at a manufacturing show in Chicago. It was cool to see.


The smaller printers can print interior parts smooth with no problem now unless you are talking about a complete dash.


Is the car made of a special kind of plastic? I know that they can 3D print just about any material now. It looks like it could be a super strong plastic. I wonder how much this thing weighs. This could be the future of the automobile.