Lukas Czinger remembers the day.
He took the day off from work to watch his dad, Kevin Czinger, speak to roughly 1000 people at a tech conference about the vision for Kevin’s company, Divergent 3D, which sustainably manufactures cars through 3D printing with reused metal. During the presentation, Kevin unveiled a car prototype. It was enough for Lukas to call his dad and ask to work for him.
Now, 5 1/2 years later, the father-son partnership is flourishing. The Czinger 21C, a car engineered, printed, and assembled computationally, can go 0 to 62 mph in 1.9 seconds and has net-zero emissions when run on carbon recycled methanol. Divergent 3D has brought in $250 million of fresh capital, Kevin says, as well as engineers snagged from SpaceX, Apple, and Tesla.
“Our mission really is to create the most advanced, off-the-hook, path-breaking, barrier-breaking vehicles in a number of different performance categories,” Kevin says “And really, just the super coolest, most creative stuff that you can create as a kid that you can imagine as vehicles.”
By no means was Lukas struggling or looking for a handout from his dad. A former Division I soccer player and electrical engineering major at Yale, Lukas worked at a well-regarded investment bank in San Francisco before jumping ship to Divergent 3D.
Lukas and Kevin, on the surface, are similar. Kevin was also a Yale student-athlete on the football team in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Both are passionate about cars. It was a self-driven career switch for Lukas, then 23 years old, who bet on himself and his dad over his stable finance job.
“I never expected that Lukas was going to join this business; I had no intention to make this a father-and-son business when he asked to join,” Kevin, 63, says. “Frankly, I was a bit concerned because he was on a career path that he had chosen, rather than me, saying, ‘This is what you should do, Lukas,’ and although he had been trained as an electrical engineer on my advice as to what he should study, he had chosen a very lucrative career path.”
Kevin was apprehensive about Lukas joining Divergent 3D because he’d come aboard as a “junior engineer,” with more people to be hired to meet Kevin’s ambitions for the startup. At the time of his presentation, Kevin was Divergent 3D’s only full-time employee.
However, Lukas immediately thrived and climbed up Divergent’s ranks. At 28 years old, he’s now senior vice president of operations for Divergent 3D and Co-Founder of Czinger Vehicles, and assembled, hired, and led the automation team, part of a larger team which numbers in the couple hundred between both companies. Kevin says Lukas has 50 of Divergent 3D’s roughly 520 patents.
“The evolution he’s gone through in the last 5+ years has been absolutely astounding,” Kevin says. “I was not doing this to groom him for anything. I saw him come in and go from being a junior engineer to taking a key role in the development of our automated assembly cell as part of our digital production system, lead that from really just an idea and an architecture to creating something that is of enormous economic value.”
Lukas says it’s easy to see his father as CEO of Divergent 3D—as a business partner—and put family aside in the workplace. It sometimes surprises people when he refers to his dad as “Kevin,” although, Lukas says, Kevin is still his father first.
“When you’re that aligned with someone—when that person is family and that person is your father, that person is your son—it makes you just focused on winning and the mission at hand,” Lukas says. “There’s no BS about politics or positioning, or twisting or being indirect. You’re just very direct and you trust that person and you’re loyal to that person and you’re just there to weigh in and support that person.”
Divergent 3D has won acclaim since it launched in 2014. It was awarded the Frost & Sullivan 2016 North American Innovation Technology award and given “Moonshot” status by Google’s Solve for X—companies that develop new technologies to solve problems in the world.
Much of the success, Lukas says, is a result of the buy-in to Kevin’s vision. Investors who’ve known Kevin for years trusted his vision for an off-the-wall, environmentally friendly car, including John Thornton, president of Goldman Sachs and lead director for Ford Motor Co. for 25 years. and Tom Steyer, a fellow Yale grad, founder of Farallon Capital, and environmental proponent. Between Czinger Vehicles and Divergent 3D, Kevin says they’ve raised close to $500 million.
Kevin’s track record kickstarted the trust investors have in Divergent 3D and Czinger Vehicles, Lukas says. Kevin’s been a senior executive at Goldman Sachs, held multiple high-ranking positions at Coda Automotive Inc., and sponsors Achievement First, a group of charter schools in New England for low-income minority students.
This résumé gave Kevin’s pitch conviction for why Czinger Vehicles might be the future of automobiles.
“I was saying to them, ‘We have a manufacturing system that is both economically broken and environmentally broken,’” Kevin says. “The only solution we have to this system is not by incrementally changing the existing system but creating a fully new digital system, that did that kind of dematerialization, super optimization, and lightweighting of structures, and then took all of those materials and [cycled] them through.”
Down to the core of how the Czinger 21C is manufactured, it’s unique—not just because it’s 3D printed, but because of the software that helped make the car a reality. The software platform Divergent 3D uses is transferable to any design team looking to craft a metal product—as Lukas says: “Gucci could actually make a car.”
The software platform, Kevin says, can be deployed across the globe and will do wonders for making large-scale 3D printing projects more affordable.
“There’s this super advanced innovation; it’s just not evenly distributed,” Keivn says. “The way you evenly distribute innovation is by giving people access to information. That’s the basis for taking their ideas and creating reality out of that. So in that sense, by breaking down the barrier, the capital barrier and the geographic barrier to access to the tools and then access to the actual production, infrastructure, that allows people an even playing ground, in an even playing field, anywhere on the planet.”
Fifteen years out, Kevin wants Divergent 3D to provide the groundwork for a “global network of digital adaptive production” for creative teams in Toledo, Ohio; Lagos, Nigeria; Beijing; or anywhere to cultivate a product from an idea to actuality. Cars will always be Divergent 3D’s “razor-sharp, first” focus, Kevin says, but the company’s beginning to dabble with aerospace and defense manufacturing.
The potential of Divergent 3D remains largely untapped.
“I don’t know another business that could potentially address a $5 trillion market, and that’s what this system could do in the long run,” Lukas says, noting that in the industry Divergent 3D serves, a market that encompasses complex structure manufacturing—$250 billion worth—everything is made of metal. “If you’re looking 10 to15 years out, you could really capture that market all together with a system that can design, manufacture, and assemble any complex structure.”
However, within automotive , Lukas says Czinger Vehicles will stay in the performance-luxury segment, hanging its hat on being the “coolest, highest-performing cars in the world” rather than bringing analog-manufactured cars into the Czinger umbrella—because, Kevin says, Czinger cars are trying to redefine how people think of cars, that they can be not only high performing but sustainably made.
“The technology itself is revolutionary,” Kevin says. “We can show, as we have, that it can completely destroy existing performance records.”