With his 3-D printed hotrods and a business model designed around Ikea-inspired microfactories, Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers is a wild child in automotive circles.  But his bloodlines actually reach back to traditional manufacturing. “Building vehicles was in my history,” Rogers says. His grandfather, Ralph Burton Rogers, was an industrialist who ran Indian Motorcycles for 13 years (and tried to revive the brand with lighter bikes), before founding Texas Industries. Grandfather was also an altruist—he helped create the show Sesame Street and saved PBS from the government’s chopping block during the Nixon years.

The younger Rogers’ filial ties took on new meaning in the early 2000s, while he served in the Marine Corps. Living amid the harsh realities of an oil-rich society, “the abject poverty and unbelievable wealth,” he started thinking about how small, self-sufficient factories could change the energy and economic equations.The Rally Fighter

 “If you make vehicles locally, you’re giving sticky jobs that provide a middle class everywhere in the world,” Rogers says. “And everyone needs a vehicle. [Automotive] is such a ubiquitous industry that by distributing manufacturing, you all at once increase the innovation in a local area and create a middle class—and you decrease the dependency on this monolithic energy source of crude oil.”

When two of his compadres were killed in Iran in 2004, he decided he was ready for a different kind of action. “I had all this training, I had all these ideas I wanted to do, and I could end up dead or I could go out and give it a shot and try to make a difference,” he recalls.  

He got on the fast track—Harvard Business School—and let no grass grow fine-tuning his idea for Local Motors, a car company built on low volume, open sourcing, and small, locally based factories. After winning a school business plan competition and a small amount of seed money, he managed to raise $4 million to start the company in 2008, with some of his initial investors coming from Harvard.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Local Motors now has about 160 employees and two microfactories, with another 45,000 square foot facility in Washington’s National Harbor set to open later this year.

What the company lacks in size it makes up for in buzz. It raised its profile several notches at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in 2014, when it 3-D printed and assembled a car called the Strati on-site over two days. Also that year, it licensed its microfactory model to GE for its FirstBuild appliance facility in Louisville. And in January, Local Motors was the first recipient of investment money from Airbus’ venture capital fund, for drone development at its new lab in Berlin.