By on November 20, 2013


With most of the new cars and concepts leaked weeks ago there hasn’t been much real breaking news from the Tokyo Motor Show, so it was a bit of a surprise that Yamaha announced that it will be the first automotive manufacturer to embrace master automotive designer Gordon Murray’s revolutionary iStream assembly process and that it will use the iStream process to build a lightweight two-seat city car called the Yamaha Motiv. The Motiv, based on Murray’s T25 and T27 concepts, will be available in both gasoline and electric versions and targeted at the European market.

The project still needs to be approved for production by the Yamaha conglomerate’s main board of directors, but it has been fully engineered for mass assembly. Gordon Murray Design and Yamaha first began discussing a possible project five years ago but the worldwide recession put it on the shelf until 2011, when they started to jointly develop the Motiv.


“Forming a partnership with Yamaha is a dream for us,” said Gordon Murray, who started developing the iStream concept of building cars more than a decade ago. “Yamaha has completely embraced the principles of iStream, and could not be a more ideal partner. They have huge technical resources, but their team on this project has been tightly-knit, very skilled and very quick-acting.”


The main concept of iStream is to abandon the traditional stamped metal, spot welded construction, used almost universally by the auto industry for more than 60 years, and replace it with one based on relatively simple tubular steel frames reinforced with sheets of composites that make up the floor, firewall, bulkheads and roof structure. The outer skin is made from non load bearing impact resistant plastic.  Murray claims class-leading stiffness and crashworthiness.

The Motiv is about the same size as one of Daimler’s Smart cars, about two inches narrower and lower, with the same 2,690 mm length, but it’s about 100 kg (220 lb) lighter.


Unlike the three seat layout with a central driving position similar to Murray’s superlative McLaren F1, Yamaha decided to make the Motiv a two seater, using Murray patented thin shell composite  seats. The instrument panel and controls are said to reflect Yamaha’s musical instrument and audio equipment heritage.

The Motiv is a midengine design with the compact powertrain mounted low in the car, in front of the rear axle. Another GMD concept, iLink, a simple strut-type independent rear suspension system, is used, an improvement over the beam axles typically found in city cars. The EV version, labled the Motiv-e, uses drivetrain components by Zytec including a 33 hp electric motor, while the gasoline version will use a 1 liter three cylinder engine, purpose designed for the Motiv by Yamaha, driving the rear wheels through a 6 speed DCT.


The Motiv-e will have a top speed of 65 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 15 seconds, intended to be exclusively used in the city. With 70 to 80 hp on tap, the combustion powered Motiv will be a bit quicker. With a power to weight ratio of about 100 horsepower per ton, 0-60 times should be under 10 seconds with a highway capable top speed of 100 mph. No estimated mileage or range figures have been released.

It’s possible that enthusiasts may embrace the Motiv. Low weight, midengine layout, a stiff chassis, a low center of gravity and all four wheels independently suspended, not to mention Murray’s reputation as one of the premier sports car designers of all time, means that the the gasoline Motiv may have more than just pretensions when it comes to sporty driving.

While officially it’s just a concept to test public reaction, Autocar reports that if the Motiv is greenlighted by the Yamaha board, a new factory for using the iStream process could be built and the car could be ready for sale by 2016. No prices have been quoted but Yamaha and GMD say that the Motiv has been designed as a “semi-premium” product so it will likely be priced similarly to the Smart, about £8000-£12,000 (~$12,900-$19,350). Murray says that the iSTreem process can support an annual output of up to 200,000 cars.

Nothing is guaranteed, but Murray is optimistic that the Motiv will see production. “This is Yamaha’s car, not ours,” he says, “and it is up to them to decide whether it goes into production. But they’re fabulous partners, and we are very optimistic for the car’s prospects.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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25 Comments on “Yamaha to Likely Build the Motiv, Based on Gordon Murray’s City Car, Using Murray’s iStream Assembly Process...”

  • avatar

    It’s competition for the Smart and Fiat 500, but is it cute enough? I suspect they made it look too much like a Smart, with not enough of the 500’s cute factor. Maybe they’ll round off the rear and make it look like an egg. A “premium” city car should have SOME styling chops, otherwise it’s too minimalist to be premium.

  • avatar

    It looks like a smart crossed with that mitsubishi miev thing

  • avatar

    The semi-premium approach will likely doom such a vehicle in the marketplace. Case in point, the Aston Martin Cygnet. Murray’s iStream process dramatically cuts manufacturing costs. If a mfr used that to produce a truly low cost car they could own a niche for affordable, practical city cars, but why buy a tiny 2-seater when you can get a Yaris for the same price?

  • avatar

    There’s a whole lot of numbers in this article, including how it’s smaller and lighter than the competition – something you’d expect from Yamaha.

    Not a word on legroom and headroom?

    Yamaha builds high-tech sports bikes that get better every year. They also get more cramped every year. This concept seems headed down that same road.

  • avatar

    a more fun to drive and sporty smart could have succes here in europe. car sharing is starting to get serious, if industrial costs will be competitive this thing could sell well in fleet market.

  • avatar

    Clearly some panel gap issues inside and out. I hope when they build them, that part doesn’t carry through. I also don’t like how the door cuts into the black trim on the side, and then cuts back out again. Raise the door or lower that trim!

  • avatar

    Dear Gordon

    How do you go from the Mclaren F1 to junk like this?

    Signed, Ryoku

    • 0 avatar

      He wanted a challenge. Building a supercar with no budget is actually not nearly as difficult, from an engineering and design perspective, as building a revolutionary high volume production car.

      And he actually believes in making a positive environmental impact for the future. You might think that is quaint, but that seems more visionary to me than building another ubercar for the uberwealthy.

      • 0 avatar

        Murray hyped this as something that would fundamentally change transportation. This Smart knock-off is the biggest let down since the Segway.

        • 0 avatar

          I thought he was saying that it would fundamentally change manufacturing.

          • 0 avatar

            The square tube steel chassis kind of looks like what was being used for a Chinese Smart replica (obviously without as much square steel tubing, including no rollover protection, but the same concept):


            It also looks like a lot any 1970s Ferrari or Lamborghini square tube steel chassis.

            Unless Murray has found a way to automate it I cannot see how welding together square tubes is more efficient than forming the space frame with robotically welded stampings, like the Smart.

      • 0 avatar

        When the Tata Nano came out, I asked a number of car designers which is a bigger challenge, designing a midengine supercar or designing a cheap “people’s car”. Simon Cox, a senior designer at GM who has been responsible for a number of high profile concept and production cars, told me that he had had a bad accident and had been laid up for a while, giving him time to reconsider what he was doing as a designer. I believe he used the word “fluff” to describe the high end stuff compared to basic transportation.

        • 0 avatar

          The Tata Nano massively shows this up. Four doors and four seats on the same basic layout.

          I mean this is just nothing new under the sun. The original Fiat 500 had the same layout but with four seats.

          The Isetta was much more interesting, it rethought how doors should open.

          Designing a successful small car is more impressive than designing an high performance exotic car. We’ll have to see if this is sucessful.

          I appreciate Murray taking on the challenge, but with all the hype around the T.25 I was expecting more. Not a Smart car replica.

        • 0 avatar

          You’re right, with compacts having to be built for a tighter budget and be more practical based. With supercars you can just design stuff that catches a blaze in 2 months, like Ferrari.

  • avatar

    Where does Yamaha currently sell cars under their own name? Do they currently build cars for other automakers? I’ll wait for the retro-themed Yamaha CS-80mobile.

  • avatar

    So how is this iStream significantly different than any other space frame vehicle before it, such as the Fiero, original Saturn, or the GM dustbusters?

    Funny, none of those or their assembly concepts are still around.

    • 0 avatar

      According the Gordon Murray Design, much of the savings, cost and environmental, of iStream is in the manufacturing process. They say that an assembly plant would take up 20% of the size of conventional facilities, with a corresponding reduction in the use of resources to run the plant. They also say that it allows more flexibility in terms of variants of the basic platform.

      Details and hype here:

      Yamaha seems to think the idea has promise. How much worse could it be from Six Sigma, using SAP or any of the other things companies do that promise to save money and boost profits?

  • avatar
    slow kills

    If they put something resembling a real transmission in it, that would be something that the Smart and the Scion iQ didn’t.
    I’d hope that a motorcycle manufacturer could figure it out, but I’ve been let down before.

  • avatar

    One may wonder what happened to Murray’s striking three-passenger car that was supposed to outsmart Daimler’s ForTwo and that was meant to use interstates in a split-lane configuration… Simplified production, blue-printable for localized manufacturing all over the planet, is the “way to go” though.

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