Open-Source Cars


Something has been running through my head and I want to see what other people think. Am I the only one crazy enough to really want an open-source automobile? My background is in automotive, and I can see ardu-based (or something similar) hardware and software being easily integrated to cars. I just saw a Wired article on 3-D printing a car, and it got my brain spinning even more. Any ideas?

Clearly oil and auto manufacturers would hate the idea and do everything in their power to shut it down, such as the story of General Motor's EV-1 in the early 1990's.

Wired article is here:

EV-1 information is here:

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  • @Jacob, soon there should be wheel hub motors optimized for motor vehicles, newer, higher capacity batteries, and safety certified body designs ready to be printed out at your local manufacturing park.  Maybe you can submit your own design to be run through the certification software package, and pick up the parts or the whole car the next day.  It is not that far away.  I know this because we are chatting on something called DIYdrones, that would have been called crazy ten years ago.  Most people will probably still go to a car dealer for the convenience.  In the mean time there are groups working on enhancing automobile data systems, and converting gas to electric.  Goggle "car PC" or "electric conversion"  Thanks for starting a great topic.

  • not to forget

  • @J.. but Tesla rides on top of other large companies investments like the Lotus with the Roadster... but coming back around to this thread.. I really don't think that you could open source a car and ever be in the majority or get past the kit car..  even if only on the volume discounts issue that large companies get when buying in crazy bulk.

    Have you driven a Volt?  or a Tesla S?  I haven't on either.. but both seem nice... Volt doesn't have the range problem that the Volt has especially if you don't shell 80k for the largest battery.  My problem with the Volt is that in scaling out the operation the company scaled back on how truly 'new' the car was by picking handles and switches used in many other models, etc...  which is more of a scaling out issue... but they operate on a different level then Tesla... I have seen quite a few Volts but I will be shocked the day I see a Tesla in these parts.  Tesla on the other hand can do some rather edgy things since they don't have these huge supply chains that they get massive discounts because they bought 100 million switches from some supplier.. etc.... also effects the end price.

  • @R_Lefebvre

    I was actually thinking of the Chevy Volt versus the Tesla. Chevy, Ford, Sony, whateva. Being a download it yourself site about tech stuff more relevant than all this is that my fav car is the one I schlepped together on my own.

    It's not that it's a great time for "consumers" & all car companies are doing us a favor with their goodness. Rather, it's that the technology has matured to such a fine degree, it's very difficult to fork a clone of whats out there & not fork yourself with the end result. E.g., my 2.0 golf/audi based engine I got for like a thousand bucks for my 25 year old car. I had a bad heater hose & screwed the head, but just pulled one off the shelf & have never had a problem since. Why? Cuz it's mature tech that has been democratized. No need to be a "consumer" these days. Tesla is a very refined version of the same idea--use stuff already made to make something new, but is working on making something actually more new than Chevy & Ford (even though it's borrow) for those with big bucks to shell out to car companies. Car mashups.

  • Agree completely!  It really bugs me when I talk to people who are completely brand-loyal, and won't even look it at anything else. How would you know if something your manufacturer makes is actually good or not, if you don't even look at anybody else's.

    To take this to the extreme....  Most Ford engineers only bought Fords.  They'd only shop Fords.  So how could they see how far Ford fell behind in the 80's and 90's if none of them ever drove an Accord?  The only thing that got these guys (and including GM and Chrysler) to wake-up was near-bankruptcy.  This actually led to them forcibly retiring a lot of the old guys, and they replaced them with new, young (ie: cheap) contractors who had little brand loyalty, and had actually driven and owned other cars.  Now look where they are.

    I had a friend at Ford who needed a pickup truck.  He wanted to buy a Toyota Tacoma!  The F150 was much too big for what he needed, and the Ranger is a complete piece of junk.  Should have been a wakeup call to Ford marketing, but instead he chickened out and bought the F150.  The only reason he finally agreed to it was the simple fact that with the employee discount, it was much cheaper than the Tacoma.

    That's all so wrong...

    You're exactly right about people want to justify their purchases, so it further closes their mind after they make the purchase.

    Right now, I drive a Kia.  It is, by far, the best car I have ever owned, for many reasons.  By FAR the best car.  And I never would have even walked into the store if they hadn't styled them so well.  I thought it looked great, but was probably a piece of junk.  I went in on a lark, but was really shocked by how good they are now.

    Some people miss out things because of excessive brand loyalty.

  • R_Lefebvre.. I think he also hits on the other issue with the auto industry and other industries.. that people get stuck into thinking badly about a brand and regardless of what that brand does to improve the original issue sill persists..  which is why some of the car companies have the 'take it home for the night' / full refund in the first 48 hours or something, sort of policy to get people to friken try the product instead of maintaining that distaste due to _____ that they owned many years ago.

    I would agree that it is a good time to be a customer..  I can't think of a crappy car out there to avoid like the plague.  If I didn't have a good friend that worked at a dealership making the purchasing of that brand of vehicles very easy, I probably would test drive some of the Fords.   I have driven a new F-150 and seems like a very solid vehicle that is well designed.

    Anyway my point is that people get stuck into wanting to play that 'I hate ____, they suck' but just because they want to, not really because of a valid reason that is still relevant.... but then again people love their brands.. if you buy ____ you tend to want to feel good about that purchase so you look upon the other competition as sucking and telling people that they do, even if it doesn't necessarily hold water to the person they are saying it to which has completely different criteria as to what they need/like/want.

  • J, if you think Ford cars still suck, you've got your head in the sand.  I've got no dog in this fight, I haven't worked for them in 8-9 years, and haven't bought a new Ford in 7 years, but it's not because their cars suck.  There are actually very few truly crappy cars for sale anymore.  It's a great time to be a consumer.

    I don't know of a single car designed today, from any OEM, which *does have* open source software.  And Ford buys all parts from other suppliers, they don't make any parts other than bending sheetmetal.

    Your comments actually highlight one of the biggest problems with the auto industry right now.  Not only do they not use open source, but they don't even have open protocols.  Most are using electronics, and proprietary and encrypted communication protocols, to prevent customers from buying replacement parts and services from anybody but the OEM and it's dealer network.

    Most are operating in a paradym where they are selling the cars at a loss, with the only hope of making a profit is by ensnaring customers in long term parts and services dependency.  

  • J.. I am not a ford fan by any means but your comments seem to be dated.. maybe 80's and 90's ford?   I personally haven't owned a Ford in over a decade and a half.  But Ford cars/trucks in the last few years have been amazingly good, where some of the Japanese brands have been slacking.   Everyone should have an opinion but I tend to try to keep a open mind with companies and their ability to improve.  Why do they suck in your opinion?

    Is your experience with Fords that suck from the last two years or is it just a general 'Ford = Fix Or Repair Daily' or 'Ford = F-er Only Runs Downhill' sort of dislike for the brand.

    Sometimes companies have a crappy product(s) that leaves a distaste in people's minds and regardless of their changes that original bad taste lingers.   Microsoft is often a in this category.. they rush a product to market that just sucks.. and then from then on out, product release after product release people just say that new product X sucks due to a product years ago sucking.  Heck Toyota had some really crappy stuff a long time ago.. LG was the bottom of the pile of suck.. making large appliances that were crappy cheap and nasty.

    So on a more factual basis why does Ford suck?

  • If Ford's strategy is to hand out candy to career academics, it's no wonder their cars suck. How many cars do you think are designed today without open source software & parts from other suppliers?

  • @Greg, I actually thought of Local Motors, but there was no point mentioning it as it actually proves my point that it would be impossible to do a good open source car.

    There's a few things that need to be clear about that thing:

    1) It may be "street legal", but in no way shape or form could it pass NHTSA crash-test regulations, nor could it pass DOT performance testing.    The reason it is "street legal" is because it is exempted from those testing since it is considered a "home built".  It's a kit car, not a volume production car.

    2) As you point out, the vehicle uses an off-the-shelf powertrain.  That is the only reason it can pass emissions.  They'd never be able to do it by themselves.  I met one of the guys who worked in Ford's Advanced Combustion Lab, the guys who make this possible.  He was one of those guys who operates on a different plane of existence than the rest of us.  He had I think 3 doctorate degrees, 2 masters, and 4 bachelor's degrees.  There's no way a bunch of super enthusiastic geeks could do what he does.  And that's ignoring the fact that he was working in a lab with super powerful computers running FEA on combustion dynamics, and a millions and millions of dollars of test equipment.

    This simply is NOT the same thing as developing an open source computer program.

    As Mark pointed out, this requires MONEY.  Big money.

    I was writing PO's for tooling, for $10,000's and $100,000 at a time, like I was handing out candy bars on Halloween.  I couldn't actually comprehend at the time how the economics of this worked out.  I still don't. 

    So, can somebody do an open source car project, and design a kit car, using somebody else's powertrain?  Sure.  But can it be done with a "real" car?  Not a chance.

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