Bike firm to follow in its rivals’ footsteps

IT was 50 years ago this year that Honda made the leap from being simply a bike manufacturer to a car maker – stepping into the market with an oddball two-seater with a tiny engine and surprising packaging.

Now Yamaha has dropped a massive hint that it’s going to do the same, revealing a concept car that looks likely to go into production carrying the firm’s name by 2016. Again, it’s a small, unusually-packaged two seater.

Honda’s first car was actually a pick-up truck – albeit one powered by an unlikely-sounding 356cc inline-four engine complete with a DOHC head (bear in mind that it would be many years before Honda made a DOHC four-cylinder production bike, so the oft-quoted mistake that the firm’s first cars were powered by bike engines is easily disproved). A 500cc version in the S500 sports car appeared shortly after the T360 truck, also in 1963.

Yamaha’s car is neither a pick-up nor, by any stretch of the imagination, a sports car. But it does have a famous racing and sports car name behind it. The designer is Gordon Murray, the South African who was behind some of the most successful F1 racing cars in history and also designed the 240mph McLaren F1 road car. He’s spent the last few years developing a small city car and a unique streamlined production process. Instead of using his own company to make the cars, he’s working on selling licences to use the design and the cost-and-space-saving ‘iStream’ production system to other companies. It looks like Yamaha is on the verge of signing on the dotted line.

Two versions of the car seem likely, a petrol-powered version based on Murray’s T25 prototype and a similar machine with an electric powertrain based on his T27 prototype. The petrol version looks likely to use a three-cylinder 1000cc engine specifically designed for the job by Yamaha. Where Murray’s prototypes have been three-seaters, sharing the layout of his McLaren F1 supercar, with a central driver’s seat and a passenger set slightly further back on each side, the Yamaha Motiv concept is a more conventional two-seater layout – making it look more like a Smart car. The Yamaha also goes without the Murray prototype’s forward-hinging canopy, instead sticking to normal doors.

If it gets the green light – and it’s looking likely – then the car is expected to cost around the same amount as a Smart FourTwo (£10k-ish).

Yamaha company president Hiroyuki Yanagi recently announced plans to enter into the automotive market by as early as 2014, six years ahead of schedule.

Yamaha’s experience with cars is already greater than you might have expected. It has been developing and building car engines for other firms – including Toyota, Ford and Volvo – for many years, and even raced in F1 with its own V12 motor in the late 1980s and early 1990s, albeit with little success. The engine was also intended to be used in the firm’s stunning-looking OX99-11 road-going supercar in 1993, but the project was dropped after just a three prototypes had been made.

What do you think? As riders would you be more tempted by a car carrying the Yamaha name than by those from other, established makers?