Joe Justice: Ultra-efficient open-source cars built in your garage

Text by Laurence Butet-Roch

Videography and photography by Max Riché

This business process consultant applies the methods he preaches to multinationals to build road-legal ultra efficient vehicles achieving 100 miles per gallon, in open-source.

The man who designed and built one of the most ecological, open-source cars in less than three months – it boasts about 100 miles per gallon, while the Clio IV, the best-selling car in France, stands between 29 and 77 miles per gallon, depending on the model – has more to do with a super hero than the cliché of a mechanic.

His name, Joe Justice, is reminiscent of a caped crusader. His mission: “to cool down the planet.” On the walls of his garage, in the suburbs of Seattle, you won’t find any pictures of pin-ups or cars. Instead, one may read fragments of his modus operandi pinned to the walls: “Welcome changes positively even late in a project,” “Simplicity – and minimizing unnecessary work – is key,” “Carry out your projects with committed people. Provide the environment and the support they need and trust them to achieve the goals.” And Post-it notes, loads of Post-it notes.

“I was driving a sport cabriolet on the magnificent road between Hana and Hawaii during my honeymoon in 2008, when I realized that if everybody on the planet indulged in the same activity, the pollution levels would become unbearable,” remembers Joe Justice. Soon after, the X-Prize foundation announced a competition that would reward the creation of a road-legal vehicle with a fuel efficiency of 100 miles per gallon.

Joe Justice, and Luke, a Wikispeed Build Party volunteer, are examining the To Do list with the post-its outlining the next steps for building the current Wikispeed car prototype. This method is based on the Scrum principles taught by Joe.
Without any expertise in this area, the thirty year-old registered. “On a piece of paper, I wrote ‘win the X-Prize’. Then I started to make a list of all the steps required to achieve that goal. In no time, I had covered my walls with Post-its,” he recalls. An optimist at heart, he took on each of those tasks with a child’s enthusiasm. Each week, he blogged about his progress and failures. Little by little, Internet users started suggesting changes and solutions to his challenges. Some people even showed up at his door to help him, for free. That’s when he decided to start Wikispeed – wiki, which means fast in Hawaiian, is often used to talk about participative models – a sort of experimental garage, modeled after Wikipedia. In less than three months, the Wikispeed SGT-01, one of the most fuel-efficient cars in the world, was born. Reaching 100km/h in less than 5 seconds, it placed tenth in the competition, ahead of competitors such as Tata Motors, or even… Tesla! Today, Wikispeed’s latest model, the Roadster, can be purchased for $28,000 on the website, including detailed instructions on how to assemble it.

In order to keep everyone organized, Joe Justice, a business process consultant for multinationals such as Boeing, Google and Microsoft, applies the technique he preaches: the « SCRUM » methods (a reference to the rugby pack). It’s also known as the “art of doing double the work in half the time.” With an ever-evolving team of volunteers, he has continued building more energy-friendly, open-source cars. Invited to participate in “building parties” twice a week, they don’t have to follow lengthy trainings nor do much paperwork.. After signing a liability release, they choose one of the tasks written on the Post-its, ranked by order of priority, and get to work. All can be completed in less than a week, and resourcefulness is the key word.

During their time in the Wikispeed garage, Mark Buckney and his 17year-old son, the president of his high school’s robotics club, attempted to put together a lighter car suspension. Meanwhile, Abby Connor and Cherlyn Chan, Physics Engineering majors, tried to start a modified engine. Innovation in three areas – the vehicle weight, currently about 700 kg, its aerodynamics, and the car efficiency – reduces gas consumption. When Wikispeed improves an item, the result is shared online for free, according to the open-source model.