The trimmed down, one-size-fits-all automobile chassis Gordon Murray Design is building isn’t as impressive as, say, a Tesla Roadster or Aptera Typ-1. But the United Kingdom automaker’s plan to revamp the auto industry and boost fuel efficiency is nevertheless getting some attention.
Modern cars are designed and built much the same way as the first mass-produced vehicles, barring some broad advances: Robotics, computer-aided design software, international supply chains. What has stayed the same is the overall concept of making a unique, costly body for every car, as well as certain materials that have remained fairly constant, primarily steel.
Gordon Murray’s approach is to build a single lightweight carbon-fiber chassis that can be produced by small factories and shipped in flat-packed containers around the world. The chassis, although small, can serve as the centerpoint for a number of vehicle designs, from tiny city efficiencies to a small van, and any standard combustion drivetrain, hybrid design or a full electric vehicle.
The company, which bears the name of its founder and lead designer, has been slowly pushing out details of its plan for several months. Perhaps the most interesting is that the company claims to not need any more investment than the $10 million-plus that it took from Mohr Davidow Ventures, a Silicon Valley firm. Contrast that with a company like Tesla, which long ago topped $100 million and seems to have an unquenchable thirst for more.
That’s not an indictment of Tesla; car manufacturing is a nine- and ten-figure investment, at least among big companies like Ford and Toyota, so startups can only be expected to lay out similar amounts of money. But Gordon Murray is working to create not only a chassis, but entire car designs that can be assembled by non-vehicle manufacturers. The company will provide licensing agreements for all of its designs, and leave the costly manufacturing to the international conglomerates that have the capital for it.
The idea might work, if Murray can provide complete blueprints for the vehicles — not only the chassis, but the other parts as well. The beauty of the plan is that existing manufacturing facilities that are idle or under-utilized could be re-engineered to produce vehicles based on the designs. Incidentally, that’s an idea that’s gaining currency in the cleantech world as a whole; Infinia, for example, a solar power startup, also plans to repurpose manufacturing.
Murray’s initial design is the T25, a tiny, 70 mile-per-gallon car similar to the Smart, which is planned for first production a year to two years out. The company also just won a significant award for its work so far, from the UK’s Autocar magazine.