By on February 27, 2015

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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.

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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.

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28 Comments on “Editorial: Will Gordon Murray’s City Car Finally See The Road?...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    I feel like if I was in an emerging market I’d rather have something durable, also having an idea on how people in countries like Honduras drive I certainly wouldn’t want my companies name on a product that’s going to look like crap within 10k city miles. Which with low profile tires, and a bumper that wouldn’t last in most cities outside of 1st world countries, let’s be honest, it’s gonna look trashed.

    These vehicles simply make no sense, it’s not appropriate in any situation, even for a single individual the better choice is a motorcycle until they can afford a traditional car that has a large network of cheap parts.

    There’s nothing exciting, nothing new, and certainly nothing innovative about trying the same failed idea over and over. I will however take back what I said if this goes to market at a max starting price of $6,000 USD.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      The picture is an auto show concept. As always, the production car will have smaller wheels and a more street-friendly exterior.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      These cars make perfect sense in certain environments. Cramped urban centers with very limited and/or very expensive parking. That is not THAT common a scenario in the US, but is not uncommon in the rest of the developed world. But even here, NYC, Boston, San Francisco, downtown Chicago, all places where a short car can really pay dividends. But even more so in places where expensive parking makes accommodation for cars that can fit three in a normal space.

      Why should a small car be so cheap? It’s easy to make a big car, it takes real engineering talent to make a small car that works. Cars are not actually sold by the pound.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Isn’t that (cheapness) kinda the point when developing a car for an emerging market? What’s going to sell more a versa or a smart? Hell we live in a 1st world country and the Versa still outsells the smart. Developing a Geo Metro derivative vs developing a smart car type vehicle should be an easy decision. And that’s where I would start, a small vehicle, but not small for the sake of being small, but rather small for cost efficiencies sake.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @Hummer,
      Why should this not be durable? Because it isn’t a larger vehicle?

      I know of small tractors like Kubota that are quite good and durable.

      Size doesn’t represent durability. Just read some of Marcelo’s articles and look at the distances those small hatches get in Brazil.

      They don’t make sense? That’s according to you. I still think it beats walking and is safer than riding a small bike.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        I own a BX1860, I’m not sure how tractors relate, especially since that 1860 cost more than a Nissan Versa, but when you design a car inside a small area normal powertrains aren’t exactly a straight forward fit. You also ignored the cost aspect, again, possibly the most important angle.

        Also explain how you came to the conclusion that I somehow implied that size and reliability were related?

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      It makes sense in the fact that this Yamaha-Murray vehicle is a stop-gap between motorcycles and a full fledged automobile.

      Motorcycles are ubiquitous in developing nations because they are cheap and compact enough to maneuver narrow and congested streets. Infrastructure is poor, and street conditions can be spotty.

      Murray’s iStream with its tubular steel frames has good synergy with what Yamaha does. Motorcycles are made with tubular steel frames, and its engine is basically lower-revving motorcycle engine (3-cylinder 1 liter engine).

      This car is basically a motorcycle with 4-wheels.

      While Yamaha will likely first launch in the EU and Japan, and likely in the $10k range with DCT, hybrids, and BEV versions. A cheaper $6k version seems completely doable. And while Yamaha may not have experienced with stamped monocoque production, it has a ton of factories all over the world that are pumping out tubular frame chassis for bikes. I wouldn’t be surprised if this car isn’t made along side their motorcycles in the developing world.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Hmmm

    Steel space frame

    Plastic outer skin

    Now change steel hood, roof and trunk to composites.

    It’s the turn of the Saturn!

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Now put the engine from the YZF-R1 in it.

  • avatar

    Murray’s i-Stream production philosophy does make a lot of sense. I agree, this “Smart ForTwo” rendition however doesn’t, particularly for a brand famous for its motorcycles. Let me put it this way: the Toyota i-Road is something people would have expected from Yamaha, and this one from Toyota. Better still: newisetta.com (sorry).

  • avatar
    Ihatejalops

    They should make it an CUV like what most people are buying who live in cities. Just sayin’

  • avatar
    ItsMeMartin

    “The Japanese industrial conglomerate is planning to launch a car (…) to capture customers in the developing world”
    If that’s the car they want to do it with, then their future does not look so good. The developing countries do not want city cars. The only significant markets for city cars are wealthy, developed markets of Western Europe and Japan and I doubt that’s going to change. Virtually nobody else cares about Smart-like cars anywhere else. Why? It’s simple: only the Westerners are affluent enough to justify the purchase of an additional (non-primary) car whose sole purpose is to be used for making errands around the city. In most developing markets one car per family is the norm and that one car must do it all: haul the whole family (think 2+3 rather than 2+dog), haul any load (be it groceries, DIY furniture kits or coal bags), do vacation duty, be a winter beater and the summer ride at the same time, be as capable being driven in the city as out of it etc. It must be as universal as possible which a car like the one presented in the article certainly is not.
    There’s a reason why the VW Santana was so popular in China, the Nissan Tsuru is still being sold in Mexico, and the Dacia Logan/Sandero is selling so well in numerous diverse markets. The developing markets are usually willing to accept a low-tech, old-fashioned car. What they do not accept are one-trick ponies such as the Smart and its imitators.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re so right. The Yamaha car caters to households having two or more cars. Why take the gas-guzzling ‘behemoth people carrier’ if you’re running errands or if you commute back and forth sitting all by yourself in your car? But I guess that the Yamaha Smart ForTwo is more to the European taste than to the American. And… IMO the issue is not making city cars shorter (which is already a bit questionable from an impact safety standpoint), but making them less wide, sleeker therefore.

    • 0 avatar
      SqueakyVue

      +! Despite it’s backseat fiat seems to be failing for the same reason. Even for families needing 2 cars this still not a viable option. I would gladly take a 10 year old 4 door beater, for functionality alone, over this thing any day. I could probably find three used brown ones, all with manual transmissions for what this is going to cost new.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Strange how the 5 top-selling cars in India are roughly this size. Don’t they know that they don’t want this type of car? Same goes for every third-world megalopolis with 5 million + population; don’t they know that they should buy a big car, even if they can’t park it anywhere or drive it anywhere?

      The Gordon Murray concept is really interesting because it uses a 1+2 layout: center steering and a back seat on either side. This provides huge rear-seat leg room and very flexible cargo capacity. It looks to us like a Smart copy (’cause that’s all we know), but it isn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        ItsMeMartin

        None of the top-selling cars in India are this size. Even the smallest of them – the Maruti Alto – is 140in in length, which is 20in more than the Scion IQ and 40 more than the Smart. They are all bigger, some of them (Swift/Mahindra 4×4) significantly so. Moreover, all of them are far more spacious and practical than that Murray car. And I am downright baffled at how you can claim that the 1+2 layout is flexible. In that layout you’ve got a laughably small trunk and the theoretical possibility of storing something in the leg space that you mentioned. How is that more flexible than the traditional 5 people+folding rear seat setup?
        And yes, the inhabitants of those third-world megalopolises DO NOT want Smarts and IQs, and they will not want that Yamaha-Murray curiosity. Don’t believe me? Just look at Street View or photos of those places. What is popular there? Just to name a few countries:
        Botswana? Corolla and Hi-Ace.
        Afghanistan? Corolla and Hilux.
        Indonesia? Toyota Innova/Yaris/Corolla.
        Cambodia? Camry and Korean vans.
        India? Maruti-badged Suzuki subcompacts.
        China? Wuling vans, modern compacts and locally made ’80s/’90s Japanese or European designs.
        Western Africa? All sorts of compacts/vans/Hiluxes imported from Europe.
        Colombia? Subcompacts or compacts, mostly Korean or Japanese.

        In many of those places (particularly in Asia) you don’t buy a small car if you live in a crowded city and need to get around. You buy a moped or a small motorcycle, or even a tuk-tuk. And if they do want a car, they wouldn’t even look at the Smart-lookalike. They are far more likely to choose a conventional, if often old, subcompact or van.

        • 0 avatar

          I think you are right except for the Colombian market. There GM and Renault have been the top sellers for years so even though there are lots of Japanese and Korean cars there proportionally than i Brazil or Argentina, they are not the most prevalent.

          The basic form of the small compact for the developing world has been set. It is basically the Euro A car. A wheelbase of 2.36 to 2.45 (some are bigger now under the influence of Sandero), 280-ish L trunk and seating for 5. The Twingo and Ka were relatively never top sellers in Brazil for example because the trunk was smaller, they seated only 4 and they tried to sell them as more upscale than Fiesta, Palio, Uno, Gol. Even VW when they made the Up here stretched it out a bit so it could carry 280L of luggage and gave it seating for 5.

          This car, by not having those requirements would only sell if it undercut the price of the cars mentioned. Hard to do. As such, I do think it’s mostly a Euro special.

          • 0 avatar
            ItsMeMartin

            That’s a funny thing you responded to me; before I wrote it I actually had a hunch that you in particular might have something to add to that from the South American perspective! :)

            And about Colombia, I must have been misled by the sheer number of those yellow Hyundai and Kia taxis that I saw on Street View in Bogotá and Medellín. Granted, I totally forgot about Renault, but, frankly, I was really surprised when you mentioned that GM was so popular there since I saw so few of them on Street View. Only later it dawned on me that apparently many of the GM products sold in Colombia are GM-Korea designs and I just counted them as Daewoos.

            Agreed on the rest of your points.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          You are confusing the Gordon Murray car with a Smart. That’s fair enough, they do look similar from afar. That being said, they are not the same and do not use their interior space the same way. Sure, it’s shorter than a Maruti (basically a Geo Metro), but it also doesn’t have three feet of engine in front of the driver.

          The argument that it won’t be the world’s most popular car right away is irrelevant. Nobody thinks that it could be.

          What’s interesting about this car (other than the fact that it was designed by one of the most successful F1 designers and is being built by one of the greatest engine companies) is the production process. The same process can be used for bigger and more utilitarian cars. You have to start somewhere though, and it looks like Yamaha is starting small. They already have a worldwide network that sells to similar customers, and they feel that they can be more competitive in this segment.

          They would be crazy to jump in at the deep end and compete against the Corolla/Focus/Golf right away.

          • 0 avatar
            ItsMeMartin

            Sure, I might refer to them interchangably but I think it is fully justified when we look at the matter from the developing markets angle. Neither the Murray-mobile nor the Smart have any chance of gaining popularity in the developing countries due to their shortcomings that I mentioned in my first post; any differences in the production process or interior space usage between them will be irrelevant in this particular scenario because in developing markets they would most likely be seen as exotic curiosities whose limited popularity would depend virtually exclusively on their fashionableness rather than those traits that you mention, and they in all probability won’t be cross-shopped against the traditional best-sellers. In other words, in the developing countries microcars are niche vehicles to an even larger extent than in the West, and in my opinion that situation in unlikely to change.

            I agree with you that it is unrealistic to expect the Murray-mobile to sell in crazy numbers. The difference between us lies mainly in the fact that you claim that such a type of car is popular in India and has the potential to be popular in other developing markets. I disagree with you on both points and think that the only places where that particular car could become a decent seller are Japan and Western Europe.

            I would also like to add that I don’t claim that Yamaha’s entry into the car market will prove to be a disaster or that the Murray car will be a sales flop. I merely argue that it is extremely unlikely that this particular model will sell well in developing markets.

      • 0 avatar

        Not this one. It’s plain two seats next to each other. Like the Smart ForTwo.

  • avatar

    These cars make perfect sense in Japan or Disneyland.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    And Yamaha already has a motor too…just drop a first gen Taurus SHO motor behind the seats!

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Well, if anyone has been to the EU you see many small cars the size of this.

    It makes sense in certain environments, not all road systems are what we have in Australia, Canada, US and New Zealand.

    Some of you guys should travel the world and there are plenty who would love a small car rather than a small motorbike.

    Again, people forget how fortunate we are in the countries we live in.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Seems like a sturdier version of the quadricycles (moped cars) popular among European teens. Is it going to be gas or electric?

  • avatar
    wmba

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      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.

  • avatar
    JPaulV

    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.

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