Editorial: Will Gordon Murray's City Car Finally See The Road?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

The saga of Gordon Murray’s T.25 city car may finally reach an end in 2019 when Yamaha plans to launch their own line of four-wheeled vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Japanese industrial conglomerate is planning to launch a car by the end of the decade, to help diversify away from motorbikes and to capture customers in the developing world who are migrating away from motorcycles and into cars.

While the WSJ article suggests that Yamaha is going at it alone with their car project, this would be an enormously expensive project. The more likely scenario is a production version of the Yamaha Motiv, a city car based on the T.25 project, engineered and designed by former McLaren F1 visionary Gordon Murray.

While the Motiv uses a number of innovative design features , the real value add for Yamaha is Murray’s iStream production process. As our own Ronnie Schreiber reported

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.

While it’s possible that Yamaha may have abandoned the Murray-based design and manufacturing system for its new car, the most recent reports indicated that the two parties had worked closely on the project and were sufficiently mutually invested to the point where production was an inevitability. Past city cars, from the Toyota iQ to the Smart Fortwo have generally been unpleasant, poorly thought out attempts at easing urban mobility. The Motiv might turn out to be something different. If nothing else, it has the right pedigree on both sides of the gene pool.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Wmba Wmba on Feb 28, 2015

    I believe Gordon Murray is a bit of a spent force these days. He allows people to call him "Professor" due to honorary degreess: " Murray studied mechanical engineering at Natal Technical College (now Durban University of Technology, which made Murray an Honorary Professor in 2002 and an honorary doctorate in 2011" In the UK, a full professor at a university is allowed to wander around using the title "Professor" in public, much as vein-popping-faced crusty old retired military men get interviewed on American TV as "General". At least those people and the hordes of Herr Professor Doktor Dipl Engs wandering about Germany got their titles the hard way. Murray is a talented designer certainly, but so are hundreds of other unheralded people. Yet the automotive press proceeds mouth agape to believe whatever idea he comes up with because Formula One. Murray's website shows nothing much of interest either. All the past blather about selling the design and also having four more companies signed on seems to have gone almost precisely nowhere. Take this Yamaha T25 offspring if it ever comes to pass and run it into a concrete block on the IIHS small-offset crash test. If it or the dummy's feet survive, call me back. Stiffness of structure and lack of crush space won't help much when the occupants' insides turn to raspberry jelly. Unless some miracle has occurred in structure design and materials (spare me the 50 year old "composites" argument) combining stiffness and crash absorption in 10 inches, which seems highly unlikely, I just cannot believe the rhetoric. Let's face it, thousands of structural engineers work for automotive companies worldwide who are at least as up-to-date as Murray when it comes to structure design - let's hear from them. Even if they are spot-welding heroes who apparently are disqualified from designing a simple space frame according to Gordo. Mercedes ruined the concept of small city car by producing an absolute piece of rubbish called the Smart car. Now everyone has diminished expectations of these types of vehicles virtually all due to Mercedes' dumb execution of it. And the Toyota iQ reinforced those opinions by being similarly awful just in different ways.. Since the T25 is even smaller than a Smart car, can we expect anyone of a normal disposition to buy one? The rear-engine militates against it, as Smart cars seem particularly clumsy in snow due to a short wheelbase, wide track and no weight on the front (steering) wheels. There will always be the fluffies intent on appearing cool, and dim-witted ecofreaks chasing down a highway to nowhere who will buy a few of these kinds of things. Great. What a business case. There's simply no aspirational reason for buying these microcars. It's never going to be the best at anything. Nothing to dream about prior to purchase. You're buying something with all the industrial grittiness and utility of hip-wader rubber boots, a bare-bones means of getting about no matter how it's styled and whether it's sporting an iPad dash to try to dispel the tang of diminished expectations. People instinctively rebel against such sparseness, even as they tell you to your face they don't. As for Murray's claim of reducing production facilities by 80%, Toyota already has stripped back factory size - remember Schmitt's visit to that one making Yarises here on TTAC, unluckily near the Earthquake of 2011? I'm supposed to believe that Murray sitting somewhere in rural Blighty has out-thought those people when it comes to saving a nickel? Frankly, he lacks real industry experience of what is chimera and what is reality. I hope Yamaha comes to its senses before wasting hundreds of millions.

    • Heavy handle Heavy handle on Mar 01, 2015

      So in short: you don't like small cars. And you are a frustrated, under-appreciated, over-educated engineer. And any innovation can only come from Toyota or a similarly large company because they are big and they employ thousands of frustrated engineers. And Gordon Murray will never be any good, no matter what he designs or what he achieves. And honorary degree are a blight on a career. And Gordon Murray should have been getting a doctorate instead of emigrating to England and designing championship-winning F1 cars (what a fool!). I feel I've learned a lot about you, but nothing about the subject that you were commenting on.

  • JPaulV JPaulV on Mar 02, 2015

    Some of the comments regarding what consumers want in other parts of the world outside of the western countries might come as a surprise to many. I have been working in China for the past five years in the automotive field and here car purchasers want mid-sized cars even though 90% of the vehicles are only used within the cities. Long distance driving is virtually out of the question because the majority of the roads (expressways) are toll roads and they are very expensive to use. This is why high speed rail is so popular. I am in Dalian (Liaoning Province). Dalian is about the physical size of NYC but with a population of 12 million. Traffic here is bumper to bumper between 7am to 9am and 6pm to 8pm. Small cars like the Smart actually sell quite well here, but Smart, the BYD copy and the Chinese QQ are the only small cars of this size that you will see. The problem with the automotive industry is you get what is offered. There really isn't any real input from consumers that the industry uses to build cars that people really want. The other side of the coin is people really don't know what they want in a car, other than a car that will do everything possible. Too many want fuel efficiency with the capability of carrying 5 or 6 people when 98% of the time there is only one person in the car. You see the same thing here that you see in the west; one person in a car designed for 5 people. In addition, even though the car is designed for highway use, the cars are driven almost exclusively in a city or suburban environment. How can you expect to get high fuel efficiency when the engine is operating at part throttle; it is not possible to operate a t part throttle and get low fuel consumption. Consider this idea, rent a big car when you need it but drive a small car designed for fuel efficiency and ease of handling in an urban or suburban environment. Such a car might have a maximum speed of say 160km/hr, on a 96in or 100in wheel base. 16 inch diameter to 19 inch diameter wheels, maximum seating for three adults, storage for three airline carry-on bags, vehicle weight of about 600kg, gasoline or diesel engine driven or series electric (diesel-electric with no distance and charge limitations) with significant fuel efficiency, nicely appointed interior with available gadgets, AC and heat, 5 star impact rating (without the addition of airbags), aerodynamic shape, disc brakes all around, possibly all wheel steering and possibly all wheel drive, and a price around $20K to $25K. The series electric in this size of automobile could achieve 1L to 1.5L/100km equivalent. The technology already exists to build such a car. The body-chassis would be aluminum and composites.

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.