FROM FLATPACK furniture and kitchens, to flatpack sheds and houses, there isn’t much in life that can’t be ordered and assembled with just a few rudimentary tools – and the occasional choice expletive. But unless you count self-build kit cars, the car has largely escaped the flatpack do-it-yourself phenomenon.
Now a team of leading engineers and philanthropists has created a flat pack van which, they claim, can be built in just 12 hours and could provide “cost effective mobility” in rural parts of Africa and Asia.
Called the Ox, the two-wheel drive, utilitarian people carrier has been designed by Gordon Murray, the man behind some of the most successful Formula One racing cars in history, which powered the likes of Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna to World Championship titles, and the creator of the revered McLaren F1 road car.
Murray was approached by Torquil Norman, a former RAF fighter pilot turned British entrepreneur, who made his fortune in toy manufacturing, who had the idea for idea for the flatpack vehicle while lying in the bath. Together they formed the Global Vehicle Trust.
“I think it was one of those bath time aberrations to which I am occasionally prone,’ Norman told Driving. “I found that only 20% of the global population has access to any kind of motor vehicle. This seemed to me something close to a crime, somehow nobody has produced a vehicle especially for the rough and tough conditions in places like Africa and that should be put right.”
The OX is a purpose built answer to a standard pickup truck with an emphasis on durability and versatility. Its main body panels are constructed from a hard wearing waterproof wood whilst its three identical glass windscreen panels are flat and identical in size so that they can be interchanged in the case of a breakage. The car also has the ability to carry a payload of 1900kg, seating up to three people in the front and a maximum 13 people in the back cabin which, Murray says, is deliberately tall to allow for bumpy roads.
The OX’s most important selling point is the speed and ease of assembly. Evolved from an original prototype from 2013, the truck arrives ingeniously packed into it’s own frame with a separate crate housing the gearbox and engine.
Rather than use an old school Ikea-style, black and white instruction manual, the van comes with a language-free assembly system which uses graphics and colour coding.
The engine is a 2.2-litre, 99bhp four-cylinder diesel, and it drives the front wheels through a five-speed gearbox. The finished vehicles is about the same size as a VW Golf, but is taller and, at around 1,600kg, heavier.
The driver sits between two passengers, much like the McLaren F1 supercar. There are other clever touches, such as a tailgate that detaches to form a ramp into the back of the Ox, and bench seats that can be placed beneath the front wheels if the car gets stuck in sand or mud.
Murray said he was proud of what his team had achieved with the flatpack van. “We are very proud of the overall vehicle, what it’s achieved and how it drives, it truly does set new standards for off-road driving.”
Torquil Norman and Gordon Murray are seeking a manufacturer which can bring the Ox to mass production. “My dream is to one day see an Ox in every village in Africa,” said Norman.
However, some observers have drawn comparisons with the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which was launched in 2006 with the objective of creating and selling affordable laptops to developing nations. By the time of its launch, in 2012, its intended price had doubled, to around $200 (£125 in 2012) and advances in technology meant laptop manufacturers were offering more units that were cheaper and more sophisticated.