Shell Project M Concept City Car: Huge Efficiency Gains Possible, Designer Gordon Murray Says

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Famed car designer Gordon Murray will team up with former Honda engine specialist Osamu Goto and oil company Shell to develop a concept for "an ultra-compact, efficient car for city use based around the internal combustion engine."

It's not intended for production. Instead, the project's ambitions are far broader, as Murray discussed in an interview with Green Car Reports this morning.

The goal of the project is nothing less than a "step change" in the efficiency of engine-driven vehicles, both in operation and in their manufacturing.

DON'T MISS: Gordon Murray's T25 Minicar Finally Revealed (Jun 2010)

The Project M concept is to be a "simple, practical, global city car" that's even lighter, more aerodynamic, and more efficient than Murray's first T25 design for a city car, released almost five years ago.

That concept vehicle was largely designed to demonstrate the iStream production process that Murray says radically reduces the cost and energy of building cars in any segment.

The T25 of 2010 was a tall, narrow, three-seat minicar powered by a three-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels. (An electric variant, the T27, was also shown at the same time, but it will not be a part of Project M. )

Gordon Murray Design T25 Minicar

Gordon Murray Design T25 Minicar

The low-energy iStream manufacturing process significantly reduces the capital investment required to produce a vehicle, including the energy required for manufacture.

It involves no stamped metal components, and Gordon Murray Design has spent the past three years engaging with "more and more real-world customers" to prove out the concept.

At the moment, he says, the company is in serious negotiations with five separate global vehicle manufacturers on eight different models--from city cars through five-seat sedans to 3.5-ton commercial trucks.

ALSO SEE: Tiny T25, T27 Three-Seat Minicars Delight To Drive, But Not For U.S. (May 2012)

Project M brings together Murray's company with engine designer Goto, who he first worked with a quarter of a century ago, and Shell, a longtime sponsor of efficiency events like this weekend's Shell Eco Drive.

Goto and the Swiss specialty engineering firm Geo Technology will focus on increasing the efficiency of the engine, based on the 0.66-liter three-cylinder unit used in the outgoing generation of Smart ForTwo vehicles sold in Europe.

The firm believes that further improvements in thermal efficiency are possible, as well as significant reductions in internal friction using coated materials rather than today's "rough" metal components.

Gordon Murray T.27 crash test

Gordon Murray T.27 crash test

That's where the Shell Lubricants team comes in; it will design lubricating oil specially for the resulting engine, as well as grease and other lubricants for other vehicle components.

The efficiency gains possible due to lubricants are higher than many realize, Murray said. he noted that a T25 running in the 2010 Brighton-to-London Future Car Challenge achieved a 6-percent boost in overall efficiency when it switched to custom-designed oil, fuel, and greases.

Shell and Murray go back considerably further, however: The company sponsored the first car and engine he ever built, at age 19 in South Africa.

MORE: Ford Fusion Lightweight Concept: How To Make A Car 25 Percent Lighter (Jun 2014)

His own team, meanwhile, is taking a fresh look at the vehicle's packaging and aerodynamics--both areas in which he feels further improvement is possible.

Murray has "materials specialists scouring the globe" for the latest in plastics and other non-metal materials, he said, that can improve on the strength, safety, low assembly cost, and energy content of those in the 2010 concept.

"I've spent most of my adult life dedicated to lightweighting and efficiency in motor vehicles," Murray told Green Car Reports.

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