Tokyo 2017: Yamaha’s ambitions

26 October 2017 | by Chris Maillard

Yamaha is known to most as a manufacturer of motorcycles and watercraft, though it produces a bewildering range of products.

Its Wikipedia page, for instance, has this impressive list: “motorcycles, scooters, motorised bicycles, boats, sail boats, personal water craft, swimming pools, utility boats, fishing boats, outboard motors, 4-wheel ATVs, recreational off-road vehicles, go-kart engines, golf carts, multi-purpose engines, electrical generators, water pumps, snowmobiles, small snow throwers, automobile engines, surface mounters, intelligent machinery, industrial-use unmanned helicopters, electrical power units for wheelchairs, and helmets. The company is also involved in the import and sales of various types of products, development of tourist businesses and management of leisure, recreational facilities and related services.”

And let’s not even mention its sister company, Yamaha Corporation, which produces musical instruments, audio and electronics among much else.

But there’s one gaping hole in their product range – cars. Mind you, the firm has actually had a fair amount of involvement in the automotive world over the years, though you would be forgiven for not realising. Yamaha’s engine technology knowhow has long been admired, and they’ve contributed technology, manufacturing and design expertise to many car manufacturers’ products, including long-term collaborations with Ford and Lexus.

Now, however, it seems they’re edging closer to a fully-fledged car range of their own. They hired design chief Nagaya ‘Dezi’ Akihiro from Toyota three years ago and the cheerful, sharply-dressed designer brought a great deal of new automotive expertise to the company. “They haven’t had anybody with my background before,” he explains, “so it’s a new experience for them.” 

One of his first fully-fledged projects made its debut at Tokyo – and while there’s still a motorcycle link (and a little marine influence) it’s very much a four-wheeled vehicle. A car, in fact.

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The Cross Hub concept is a small pickup truck with an outdoor, adventure sports feel, as you might expect from Yamaha. As a link to the two-wheeled heritage, it’s designed to carry a dirt bike or two, and the bodywork features a cunning slot behind the front doors, which Dezi explained was to hold a bike’s front wheel steady in transit.

However, it‘s more than just an oversized motorcycle accessory. Brand styling cues have come from the musical instrument world, with finishes and details, er, plucked from guitars and wind instruments (did we mention that Dezi is an accomplished horn player?) and a sizeable nod to the marine world with its deck-like wooden plank pickup bed and its dash-mounted compass and navigation unit. The deep blue, though, is a traditional Yamaha motorcycle colour, as seen on the racing machine of Valentino Rossi et al. It’s a well-executed blend of the Yamaha tradition in a new package.

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More interestingly still, though the concept is credible enough, it’s a spearhead for what is envisaged as a small range of vehicles, from off-road style to performance and urban variants. Though Dezi’s keen to stress that Yamaha don’t want to water down their brand values of performance and excitement, the car market is certainly a place they’d like to take them.

And talking of exciting, elsewhere on the stand was a leaning, slim-bodied performance vehicle, the MWC-4, that married motorcycle-inspired styling and performance with four close-set wheels, car seating and controls. An intriguing and exhilarating idea, but the Cross Hub is definitely more of a pointer to the future.

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Tokyo 2017