T.25: a drive for new thinking

I have been following Gordon Murray’s T.25 / iStream project for a few years now. Today, there is a first look at the car and an article on the project in the Telegraph.

I won’t repeat what can be read on those sites, but I will discuss my views and the reactions to the project. This excites me. This inspires me. Smart people, smart thinking, being applied to real issues. While everyone still chases the grand gestures of the supercars he once built, the designer has long since been looking to the future; working to address the problems bearing down that we choose to ignore.

Many of the commentors give half-baked comparisons to existing vehicles, are shallow, or apathetic. Yes, an Audi A2 may have tubular steel construction but it is still too big. The VW diesel engine may be great, but diesels are expensive to produce and heavy. The Indian and Japanese solutions are operating in different infrastructures answering slightly different issues to the European or American markets. You can also bet that the designers are well aware of scenarios like rain and multistory car-parks. This car will work in the real world.

Style? This car is no more ugly than anything currently on our roads. It does look different, but that is because it is different. Let it be new. I think it is nicely futuristic; lifted from a sci-fi film set; and if you are honest with yourself, more like what, 20 years ago, you imagined we would be driving now. Besides, the style referred to concerns the experience “inside” the car – control, visibility, usable space and real comfort. Gadgets, carpet, leather and all that makes us go “ooh” can still be put in here. It may be applied in a clever way to save material and weight but the effect will be the same to the occupant. As in many areas of life, we need to re-decide what is actually important to us: what we use all the time, what we experience on the inside, or what everyone else sees on the outside?

Usability – why do the one, two or three cars in your family (we had four at one stage, so don’t feel I am pointing fingers) have to cover all eventualities? If 90% of the time there are one or two people in the car, and the distances are moderate, why do you need a vehicle to fit the whole family? Could those 10% situations be catered for with another solution? Two tiny cars, rental, car pool, public transport? Yes, these solutions would need to be more ubiquitous, or of a higher standard / better value, but that’s not that difficult to achieve. The reduced travel time, cost of running, cost of purchase and overall stress if people used these vehicles for that 90% of their journeys would improve their life more than the mild assurance of having the other 10% covered, or the fleeting reward of status – most people who admire your big car will never know you; the people you meet every day, you interact with, if you must impress them they will notice your shoes, your watch and your manner more often.

Safety – is always a state of mind. Our obsession with passive protection is reflective of how we have strayed from personal responsibility. I feel equally safe whether I am walking, cycling, on a bus, on a motorcycle, in a small 20yr old car or in a big new car. I am as likely to suffer an injury from inattention in any of those situations. That extends to using the seatbelt provided on the bus, or ensuring my vehicle is in working order. Getting beyond the root of the problem, this car will be surprisingly safe. The experience of the design team in motorsport and composite construction will ensure a protective environment. The control and handling should also be of a high standard, reducing the likelihood of accident to begin with. Added, this car is primarily for urban and village environments where speeds are low. Once the percentage of smaller / lighter vehicles on the roads goes up, the chance of being hit by a tank further decreases.

Again, 700 words written about the car, when the real focus and innovation is the manufacturing process! iStream could make bigger cars also. It could make them in your county. It would make them more efficiently, use less dwindling resources, involve less transportation, and be cheaper as a result. This process and this vehicle represent a positive potential for our manufacturing industry, our economy and our standard of living. You can fit three in one parking bay, but it is a really big deal.

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