Yamaha Motiv set to bring Gordon Murray’s city car to life

24 November 2013

Yamaha Motiv-e at the Tokyo show

It’s fully eight years since F1 car designer Gordon Murray first began jotting down his city car notions, and the first production product is now tantalisingly close. At the Tokyo motor show this week the Motiv was unveiled, incorporating many of the innovations that Murray has been working on over the last few years, brought together into a virtually production ready car.

And unsurprisingly it is not a conventional car company that is poised to take the plunge but Yamaha, purveyor of motorcyles, musical instruments, scooters, snowmobiles, jet-skis and quad-bikes but not yet a car.

I say poised because the decision to put the Motiv into production has apparently not quite been taken. No doubt Murray and his many fans will have fingers, toes and major limbs desperately crossed.

Yamaha Motiv-e rear view

The example displayed at the show and in these images is the Motiv-e, a fully electric version of the car, although a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol edition is perhaps more likely to emerge as a saleable product in 2016 or so. The multi-purpose platform mirrors the petrol T25 and battery T27 twins that emerged from Murray’s prototype workshop in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Yamaha’s electric Motiv-e is powered by a rear-mounted 15kW (20bhp) motor, fed by an 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery. The motor can deliver up to 25kW (33bhp) and a stonking 896Nm of torque in short bursts, which would presumably make it feel pretty nippy in the city, even if the low sustained power means it will run out of puff at higher speeds. Getting to 62mph is cited at a leisurely 15 seconds or so. Range between charges is quoted at 100 miles in real-world conditions.

Yamaha Motiv-e interior

The Motiv has been very neatly styled in a sort of space-helmet kind of fashion, which ought to prove less divisive than Murray’s love-it-or-hate-it approach to the T25 and T27. Yamaha’s car is also a strict two seater, in Smart ForTwo style, whereas Murray’s experimental vehicles were both three-seaters with a central driving position.

Losing the middle seat and shifting the driver over to one side may have quashed echoes of Murray’s magnum opus, the McLaren F1, but it has made the Motiv a might more practical. Central seats are tricky to climb into, hence the T25’s huge upward swinging canopy, which would have had the notable drawback of soaking the seats when opened in a rainstorm. With just the two pews, Yamaha’s edition can get by with a pair of ordinary, outward-swinging doors.

Yamaha Motiv-e chassis

At 269cm long, 147cm wide and 148cm tall, the Motiv is roughly the same length as the Smart ForTwo it vaguely resembles, but 6cm shorter and 9cm narrower. It also shares a plastic outer skin with the city Smart, though under the skin the Murray approach is very different – and indeed the key to his proposition.

Murray’s iSteam construction method ditches expensive stamped sheet-steel panels in favour of a tubular and box-section steel spaceframe chassis, welded together, providing both structural strength and crash protection. The result is drastically reduced production costs and a welcome cut in weight – at a claimed 730kg the electric Motiv-e is about one fifth lighter than the 900kg electric Smart ForTwo ED.

Yamaha Motiv-e side view

The Motiv also makes use of Murray’s compact fully independent suspension design, so should ride and handle significantly beyond the city car norm. Most small cars make do with twist-beam rear arrangements that are light, compact and cheap but which link left and right wheel movements together.

It remains to be seen if any manufacturer is brave enough to put Murray’s entire vision into production – complete with centre seat and canopy. But for now, a green light from Yamaha would be very welcome indeed.

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