Currently reading: Yamaha reveals Gordon Murray city car
The Yamaha Motiv is the first fruit of a partnership between Yamaha and Gordon Murray to develop his radical new city car

The giant Japanese conglomerate, Yamaha, is today revealed as the world’s first major manufacturer to adopt the revolutionary iStream car creation process invented and developed over the past decade by Britain’s master designer and former F1 guru, Gordon Murray.

The fruit of the partnership is a lightweight two-seat city car called Yamaha Motiv, made in both petrol and electric versions and specifically engineered for Europe. If it reaches production, as seems likely, it will represent the first head-on challenge for the Mercedes-backed Smart micro-car in 12 years  

Though Motiv is displayed in Tokyo this week as a concept, and still needs the approval of the main Yamaha board to proceed, the car has been fully engineered over the past 15 months for Murray’s patented iStream production process. Yamaha and Gordon Murray Designs discussed co-operating on a car project as long ago as 2008 but progress was interrupted by the recession. Talks resumed in 2011, and Yamaha and GMD have since worked side-by-side to develop the car.

Blog: Gordon's success and what it means

“Forming a partnership with Yamaha is a dream for us,” says Gordon Murray, who began his mission to change road car design and manufacture 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. 

Gordon Murray’s central theme with iStream has always been to free car production from the inflexibility and crippling investment costs of the traditional stamped-steel, spot-welded construction process adopted wholesale by mass manufacturers from the end of the 1940s, replacing it with a system that depends on structures whose relatively simple tubular steel frames (formed without the need for extensive stamping shops) have class-leading rigidity and crashworthiness provided by super-lightweight sheets of composite sandwich material bonded in to form the floor, firewall, bulkheads and roll-over structure. It is massively strong and durable, says Murray; F1 technology adapted to keep a lid on cost as well as weight. 

The Yamaha Motiv, around 50mm narrower and 60mm lower than a Smart but almost identical in length at 2690mm, is about 100kg lighter. Its outer skin is formed in non load-bearing, impact-resistant plastic which can resist minor damage better than steel or aluminium, and is easily detached for crash repair. The ultra-modern styling owes nothing to the experimental Murray T-cars, though it is the combined work of a GMD-Yamaha design team.

Blog: What will the Yamaha Motiv be like to drive?

Rather than adopting the three-occupant, central-seat layout of the T-cars, Yamaha opts for two handsome multi-adjustable, thin-shell composite seats (another Murray patent) set side-by-side in a cockpit whose controls, switches and dials are designed to reflect Yamaha’s expertise at making sophisticated musical instruments and audio equipment.

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The new baby Yamaha closely follows the mechanical layout of GMD’s diminutive iStream city prototypes, the petrol-powered Murray T25 city car and electric Murray T27 (both driven exclusively by Autocar 18 months ago) in having a compact powertrain mounted low in the car, just ahead of the rear axle.

It also adopts iLink, GMD’s simple strut-type rear suspension system, specifically devised to improve on the ride and handling qualities of the non-independent systems found in other cars this size.

The show car’s battery-electric powertrain uses UK sourced components by Zytec (hence its “Motiv-e” badge) but a petrol model has already been designed, powered by a purpose-built Yamaha 1.0litre, three-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a new six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The electric powertrain is closely related to the 33bhp, gearless layout of the T27, whose estimated 65mph top speed and 15second 0-60mph acceleration firmly earmarks it for city use.

The standard petrol model’s power, estimated at 70-80bhp, seems likely to fulfil the sporting promise of the car’s lightness, chassis rigidity, low centre of gravity and all-independent suspension, a rarity in this size-class. It wouldn’t be difficult to visualise a three-pot Motiv with a power to weight ratio around 100bhp/tonne, a 100mph-plus top speed and a 0-60mph sprint time below 10seconds.

The partners are tight-lipped about the project’s precise prospects. For Yamaha, this is very much an exercise to test public reaction. However, Autocar understands that if the project were to be ratified by the Yamaha board before year-end, a factory could be built and the car could be in production by 2016. 

The partners believe it is far too early to forecast production numbers or showroom prices, but the car has been designed as a semi-premium product, like Smart, to justify a UK price today in the £8000-£12,000 region. Murray has often said iStream was devised to support production units with annual output up to 200,000 units.

Smart’s Hambach factory makes around 100,000 units a year, about 5000 of them sold in the UK. But Motiv’s initial production will be a fraction of this if it begins at all; much has still to be decided. 

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“This is Yamaha’s car, not ours,” says Gordon Murray, “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.”

Read Autocar's exclusive reviews of the Murray T25 and the Murray T27.

Read more Tokyo motor show news.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Polemic 22 December 2013


I have watched the development of the T.25 and T.27 with great interest and this announcement of the Yamaha concept is hugely disappointing.
The three seats were THE USP for both me and my wife and we were both signed-up to buy one each as soon as we could.
Hopefully the generally negative response to Murray and Yamaha's concept will force a rethink.
It would appear Toyota's iQ has little to worry about.
terryleon 18 December 2013


Looks like a Renault designed Smart Car
grastehar 27 November 2013

Great News

This is great news on 2 fronts: - Brave of Yamaha to publicly go with GMD's philosophies. I hope it ends up working for them. - Great for GMD to achieve this kudos and positive publicity. But, appearance wise, for me, the Yamaha is heavy handed, should go for 'cute' and 'elegant' and appealing to the female market, like the Fiat 500. And incidentally the T25 is ugly, too upright, like the old Ford Popular somehow.