Yamaha's Abandoned Car Design

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

We all know Yamaha as one of the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturers, but what’s often forgotten is the Tuning Fork company’s work in the automotive sector. Yamaha has a long history of producing engines and other components for automakers such as Toyota and Ford.

In 1984, Yamaha developed and supplied the 60° DOHC V6 SHO (Super High Outout) engine for the Ford Taurus, and in 2010, Yamaha co-developed the V10 engine of the Lexus LFA. Years earlier, Yamaha helped Toyota develop the 2000GT sports car in 1967, which was the closest we came to seeing a Yamaha car.

The Yamaha Sports Ride Concept at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.

We came close in the last decade, however, as Yamaha began showcasing a number of car concepts developed with Gordon Murray Design, a firm founded and named after the former McLaren and Formula 1 race car designer. First came the Motiv, a two-seater compact car that resembled a Smart car that was showcased at the biennial Tokyo Motor Show in 2013. Two years, later, Yamaha showed a sportier-looking car called the Sports Ride Concept, pictured above.

Both concepts were built around Gordon Murray Design’s iStream chassis, a lightweight modular aluminum frame with composite panels. The Sports Ride Concept was said to weigh in the neighborhood of 1,650 pounds, svelte for a car. At the time, Yamaha said it was making “steady development progress toward models for production and commercialization,” with the Motiv undergoing on-road testing.

And that was pretty much the last we heard about progress. At the 2017 Tokyo Show, Yamaha revealed a pick-up truck called the Cross Hub Concept, but it did not use the Gordon Murray iStream chassis and appeared to be a completely unrelated project. This past fall, at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, Yamaha finally admitted that the automotive project was dead, telling AutoCar it had suspended all car projects indefinitely.

“Cars do not feature in our long-term plans any more,” Yamaha spokesperson Naoto Horie told Autocar. “That is a decision taken by President (Yoshihiro) Hidaka for the foreseeable future, as we could not see a way to develop either car to make it stand out from the competition, which is very strong.

“The sports car in particular had great appeal for us as enthusiasts, but the marketplace is particularly difficult. We now see other opportunities.”

The project may be dead, but thanks to a newly published design registered with the European Union Intellectual Property Office, we have an idea of what Yamaha’s sports car could have looked like. The designs were filed in April 2018 and registered a month later, but the information was sealed until last week. The designs show a compact two-door design with curvy front fenders, air scoops ahead of the rear wheels and a rear spoiler. Gordon Murray and several members of his firm were listed as the designers, suggesting the car used the iStream chassis. Also credited as a designer is Masato Suzuki, from Yamaha’s R&D division.

The design looks closer to production than the Sports Ride Concept, having door handles and a windshield wiper, features the earlier concept lacked. Unlike the Sports Ride Concept, which had a pair of exhausts below the rear spoiler, the new design does not show any sign of an exhaust system, suggesting, perhaps, an electric powertrain. There’s also no visible location for either a fueling or charging port for that matter, suggesting the design is still at a conceptual stage.

The timing of the design filing was close to when Yamaha filed similar design registrations for the Cross Hub Concept with the EUIPO, suggesting Yamaha may have intended to show it at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show. Alas, we may never know what Yamaha had originally planned for this new design if Yamaha has indeed shuttered its plans to produce cars.

Dennis Chung
Dennis Chung

Dennis has been a part of the Motorcycle.com team since 2008, and through his tenure, has developed a firm grasp of industry trends, and a solid sense of what's to come. A bloodhound when it comes to tracking information on new motorcycles, if there's a new model on the horizon, you'll probably hear about it from him first.

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