Gordon Murray is no stranger to pushing the limits of car technology. He is, after all, a former Formula One designer and the man behind both the McLaren F1 and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.
Lately, though, he's been a bit quiet. He hasn't been building race cars or world-beating supercars. What he has been working on is something called iStream. Most people aren't familiar with it, but when Yamaha showed off its ultra-light sports car concept at the Tokyo Motor Show this year, the name "iStream" suddenly got a lot more attention.
We know the Yamaha Sports Ride concept is designed to be produced with Gordon Murray's iStream process, but what the heck does that even mean?
Even the is a bit vague.
iStream® combines leading-edge lightweight technology, low-energy consumption and flexible small-footprint production sites where the market is located to deliver a radical all-new production process, capable of producing equally innovative and forward-thinking vehicles. It maximises the benefits of lightweight Formula One construction technology, without any of its prohibitive associated costs, to create a production process that's low in both emissions and investment.
When you dig a little deeper, though, it actually starts to look pretty fascinating.
The frame is constructed from steel tubes in a fully-automated process where they're formed, cut, profiled, and welded together to form the basic structure, including all the hard points like the door hinges, seat mounts, suspension mounts, etc.
Thin pieces of fiberglass are then sandwiched together with a honeycomb core, creating strong, stiff, but light panels that can then be bonded to the frame. The company, Gordon Murray Design, claims that these fiberglass pieces have better specific strength, stiffness, and energy absorption when compared to aluminum or steel.
The result is a chassis that's been designed to be light, low-cost, and more easily scalable than you can achieve with current platforms. Murray claims multiple types of vehicles can be built in the same factory using the same basic platform, and production changes can be made quickly.
The chassis used on the Yamaha Sports Ride concept replaces the fiberglass pieces with carbon fiber. It uses the same basic process, sandwiching two thin pieces of carbon fiber together with a honeycomb core, but in this case, it eliminates many of the man-hours required to assemble carbon fiber-intensive structures using conventional techniques.
Potentially, Gordon Murray's iStream Carbon process could bring the cost of a carbon fiber chassis down far enough that even mainstream vehicles use them. The first company to use the process in a production car, though, is most likely to be TVR, the British sports car company that's supposedly back from the dead again and has already taken deposits on its entire first run of new cars.
Other than Yamaha and TVR, Murray claims to be working with five other companies to develop cars using his iStream process.
Let's hope Murray's claims of cost savings are true and that Yamaha can find a business case to produce the Sports Ride. Being able to buy a tiny little McLaren for the cost of a BMW 3 Series would be pretty neat.