An interview with Transportation innovator Dan Sturges

2y ago


By Adam Kress

More diversity, and a movement away from the automobile ownership monoculture. We have had one main ubiquitous system, and we are heading into diversity, or “driversity,” if you will.

Dan Sturges

The man behind the creation of the neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) category has come to work for Local Motors to help advance our portfolio of innovative vehicles.

Dan Sturges began his career in transportation 30 years ago as a designer at General Motors, and has evolved to become an expert on right-sizing transportation and micro-mobility vehicles. Dan designed the first (NEV) and launched the company to build it. In fact, his NEV has become a new vehicle category, and the most popular low-speed electric vehicle in the world. Today, Dan’s NEV is owned by Polaris Industries and branded the Global Electric Motorcar (GEM).

Since October, Dan has been hard at work with our product development team to identify opportunities for Local Motors to bring low-speed vehicles and alternative modes of transportation to market. That includes the Olli, but we’re also working on other vehicle concepts you are sure to more about in the coming months.

I had to opportunity to sit down with Dan to discuss his views on the future of transportation, how the public is beginning to change its attitude toward vehicle ownership, and what that means for Local Motors. We hope you enjoy.

When did you first hear about Local Motors?

Almost from the very beginning. I spoke with Jay on the phone when the company was still based near Boston. I always liked the "local" aspect, as I had spent a lot of my career focused on smaller forms of local transportation and mobility. I also thought the company's co-creation idea was important, right from the start.

What appealed to you about doing some work for us?

I feel Local Motors is well positioned to support co-creation around smaller "near" cars. Now that Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is getting traction, and companies such as Uber are the fastest growing transportation companies in history, the automobile "monoculture" is fragmenting and exploding our choices in vehicle types to be much more diverse and context-sensitive — and that leads to a wider array of vehicle sizes.

What do you mean by monoculture?

It’s a description of our current vehicle culture, which is mostly comprised of larger cars, SUVs, and light trucks. These all require the same amount of space to fit on this planet — 300 square feet, regardless of that’s in a garage, on a side street or in a parking lot.

What could a “near-car” future look like?

In the future, vehicles used only for trips in a place like Downtown Chicago would not be designed for going fast on the freeway, but rather optimized specifically for that environment in Downtown Chicago. Going a step further, we need to get residents in a city like Los Angeles to think about their transportation future. Hopefully they will look at new commuter solutions or "bundles” of mobility options that include small, inexpensive vehicles for their local travel needs. Those small vehicles would get them to their nearby "mobility hub,” where they could travel more places at a faster speed.

How can we get people thinking about that sort of reality?

To get people to sell their Honda Accords for a small vehicle, it may be easier if they can co-create their “near car” themselves — to design the little cars rolling about their neighborhood, or for one their children to have a role in designing it. Local Motors is all about co-creation and I see the company poised to enable millions to be a part of creating an aspect of their transportation future.

What have you been working on in your time at LM?

Planning how the company can address the opportunity I just mentioned. We are thinking of this as a future for “near” cars, including the Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) I worked on early in my career, but also including Europe's "Quadricycles" and other small vehicles. We are also talking about the future of Cargo Bikes, and new "Bike-Cars" which many are working on these days, and new shared local vehicle opportunities. There are now 900 cities worldwide with bikeshare systems operational. Bikes are great, but often times people need to carry more cargo, or like to have something more like a golf cart for a nearby trip. Near cars can play an important role in our new diverse and shared upcoming mobility systems. They require only one-quarter of the land of a conventional car. They also require very little energy or cost to the user.

Overall, what’s your worldview on transportation?

We are heading into a very exciting new time of both shared mobility and of a new "moving" world. In the decade ahead car ownership will no longer be essential for humans to have freedom of movement and a good life in their city. They will have a much faster way to get around that costs them and society far less.

But this is not only about transport. Services like AirBnB are allowing people to live in a more "multi-location" way. In our future, that autonomous car may actually be an autonomous "dwelling" unit, or mobile office that is repositioned as needed. In the nearer term, consumers will be able to switch from owning one car to having access to a large fleet of vehicles that they can switch from. Drive an economy car one day, choose a luxury car for dinner, or a sports car on your birthday. We will see the smaller vehicles in our city centers and I expect we will come to see small "vehicles" driving inside new (and modified) buildings. A future office "cubicle" may be able to drive out into a nearby park for someone to work or hangout in a nice environment, or into another building for some reason.

How can Local Motors vehicles play into that worldview?

Local Motors can activate this large micro-mobility future. Co-creating these micro-vehicles can happen much faster than freeway-type cars, keeping the contributing public interested, engaged, and excited. MaaS will destroy the one-size (big) car world, and allow LM to unleash an amazing amount of creativity in the micro-mobility space.

How do we get the general public thinking more about transportation alternatives (not just their own car)?

By enabling them to be able to shape these new micro vehicles. Turn the lower-speed vehicle into a canvas the public can access and shape. We also need to help the public see the mobility future from the big picture.

What's the biggest change we'll see in transportation over the next five years?

More diversity, and a movement away from the automobile ownership monoculture. We have had one main ubiquitous system, and we are heading into diversity, or “driversity,” if you will.

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