A couple years ago, Gordon Murray introduced his T25, a tiny little car that takes up no more space than a motorcycle sidecar rig, gets really high mileage and looks like fun. What I didn’t notice when I wrote about it back then, perhaps it wasn’t refined yet, was his iStream production process, a method of producing cars that deserves some attention.
The iStream process builds the chassis out of a very strong, lightweight composite material. Then he attaches the body panels made out of recycled plastic bottles. This two step process, is far quicker and simpler than the current process used by manufacturers.
Three steps — stamping the steel frame, welding the body together and rustproofing — are eliminated. A manufacturer could build an iStream plant to make 100,000 cars annually for 85 percent less capital than a conventional one, Murray says. Since an iStream factory would be two-thirds smaller, it would consume about 60 percent less energy.
He says the process has been so simplified that retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. or electronics giants such as Apple Inc. could use it to jump into carmaking.
Murray has a lot of car design and building experience, he’s no backyard dreamer, the spectacular McLaren F1 is his work, so his ideas are worth a serious look, especially when he has already produced cars using the method he’s trying to get car companies to adopt.
The reason I bring this up, beyond the simple fact that the technology is pretty neat, is the same reason I’ve shown you some of the other projects recently appearing on The Kneeslider, it’s indicative of, for lack of a better term, where the action is. It’s thinking beyond the same old manufacturing processes and minor design changes the motorcycle industry seems to be mired in.
If some young engineer or designer was thinking about getting into an industry moving into the future, the motorcycle industry might lose out to something like this. When we see things like the BOXX or the Lit Motors gyro car, it’s obvious someone is pushing beyond what everyone else is doing. Rather than critiquing them as a poor substitute for the Harley or Honda in your garage, it might make more sense to think about how innovative thinking could transform the industry we know so well and the products we’re used to, how doing things differently might re-energize the business for the next 100 years.