Across Africa there is intense need for improved transport, for both everyday living as well as emergencies. Even though 15% of the world’s population lives in Africa, there has never been a vehicle specifically designed and manufactured in volume to meet the rigours of the continent.
On the contrary, across the automotive industry, there is a trend of supplying ever larger, heavier, more technically complex vehicles such as electric and autonomous cars to just a fraction of the world‘s population. What the developing world needs so desperately is a simple solution to a real transport problem.
Too often, the transport of food, water, medicine and people is dependent upon unreliable vehicles and uncertain availability. The vehicles that are available are frequently designed for quite different purposes, are too heavy, too complicated or are unsuited to local conditions.
The concept for the OX originated from the vision of one man – Sir Torquil Norman. A former pilot, banker, company executive and toy manufacturing entrepreneur; Sir Torquil is also a passionate philanthropist, and is chiefly responsible for the rescue and renovation of The Roundhouse in Camden, north London.
Five years ago, Sir Torquil founded the Global Vehicle Trust (GVT), in order to pursue his ambition to help people in the developing world by providing cost-effective mobility for all. The GVT briefed Gordon Murray Design on a unique humanitarian programme to create a lightweight truck for the developing world. The brief called for a low-cost vehicle with a substantial load capacity, superb all-terrain ability and a flat-pack design to make it more efficient to export in greater numbers at lower cost.
The result of this collaboration is the OX – a ground-breaking vehicle that encapsulates Sir Torquil Norman’s vision and Professor Gordon Murray’s unique expertise. By providing cost-effective mobility, the OX aims to tackle poverty and ill health in the developing world, particularly in rural Africa and parts of Asia.
Sir Torquil Norman said: “My inspiration for the OX goes back to seeing the ‘Africar’ project of the 1980s. This project shares some of the aims of that vehicle, but its execution is radically different. OX was just a dream six years ago, but it is now a realistic prospect for production with working prototypes that have completed a comprehensive testing programme.
“Our sole objective at the GVT is to help people in the developing world. As part of an aid programme, the OX could provide an essential element of infrastructure to enable the local population to raise the community’s standard of living, and to assert its independence by gaining control of its transportation needs and costs.”
The unconventional vehicle has been designed with a particular focus on helping these communities to undertake crucial daily tasks, such as collect drinking water and transporting grain, fertilizer or building materials. It is able to carry loads twice the weight that vehicles designed for similar tasks can manage, while also having the capability to traverse punishing terrain.
Professor Gordon Murray said: “The OX tells the story of one of the most inspiring design journeys in the history of the automobile and while it records the story behind the problem solving and the realisation of an extremely disruptive concept it also stands as a tribute to the brilliant mind behind the idea and the dedicated and talented team that make the OX a reality.
The OX programme is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and challenging I have undertaken during my 50 years of car design, including my years in F1! The added challenge of designing a flat-packed vehicle over the already tough targets for cost, durability and weight saving made for a fascinating and stimulating journey from concept to running vehicle. The most satisfying elements of the project for me are that the OX will make such a difference to so many people and that it has no competition in any part of the world. It has been a privilege to work alongside Torquil to make his vision a reality”.
The OX has been designed by one of the world’s leading automotive engineers, Professor Gordon Murray, and is specifically aimed at tackling a host of transport challenges in the developing world. It is unlike any other vehicle and has no direct competitor – whether from a concept, performance or pricing point of view.
The brief for the vehicle called for high ground clearance, excellent approach and departure angles, large wheel movement, a multi-purpose layout and a three-person cab. Gordon Murray’s design for the OX is nothing short of revolutionary, and the flat-pack format fundamentally changes the way a vehicle can be bought and transported, providing specific advantages to lead times and overall unit cost.
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The OX has been designed to offer superb all-terrain ability, but it also has a huge and adaptable load carrying capability. The packaging is a key triumph of the OX project: the overall vehicle length is far shorter than a large SUV, and yet it can carry a payload of 1900kg (approximately twice the capacity of most current pick-ups) with a load volume of 7.0 m3. Based on EU size guidelines, it can seat up to 13 people or carry eight 44-gallon drums or three Euro-pallets.
Therefore, the OX not only addresses the problems with the roads (or often lack thereof); it also addresses the specific need to transport large volumes of goods and people at low cost.
All-terrain ability is crucial for the developing world, and the OX has been engineered to perform as well as, or better than, a four-wheel drive vehicle across a range of surfaces, while offering durable mobility with two driven wheels.
Four-wheel-drive systems add weight, complexity and cost to a vehicle. They also reduce ground clearance and increase tyre wear and fuel consumption. Through clever and innovative design, the two-wheel-drive OX has most of the attributes of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but without any of the compromises.
Covering rough ground depends less upon the number of driven wheels and more upon the balance and the ground clearance of the vehicle. The OX’s two-wheel-drive system allows a great deal more ground clearance, with 400mm at the mid-wheelbase point, without the need for larger and more expensive wheels and tyres. In addition, its wide wheelbase allows it to follow the tracks of larger vehicles on unpaved roads.
An approach angle of 45 degrees beats almost all light off-road vehicles currently in use, while the 55-degree departure angle is class leading by a substantial margin. With wading capability in a water depth up to 780mm, OX also has the ability to traverse flooded terrain with ease.
The OX grips the surface over which it is travelling very effectively because it has fully independent OXGlide™ suspension on all four wheels, using a leading- and trailing-arm setup. This also makes the vehicle much more stable over rough ground than is usually the case with off-road vehicles.
The OX’s revolutionary nature extends beyond the vehicle design because, uniquely, it is capable of being flat-packed within itself, enabling it to be transported more efficiently around the world.
At the heart of the vehicle is a strong but light steel chassis, and the external shell consists of all-flat, extremely strong and waterproof bonded wood composite. The three glass windscreen panels are also flat and identical in size, so can be interchanged in case ofbreakages.
The main body panels, including the doors, are interchangeable left-to-right, which means one spare part can be used on either side of the vehicle, and these parts can be easily stacked to save space. Innovative thinking has also been applied to the design of the suspension arms, with wishbones that are identical on both sides. These carefully considered components keep initial costs low, and facilitate compact storage in the replacement-parts supply chain, thus keeping maintenance costs down as well.
The OX’s main body panels are constructed from a highly durable and specialised ‘waterproof wood’. WISA-Trans is a multilayer laminated ply panel with a slip resistant finish. The panels are intended for exceptionally heavy duty use, where the special wear resistant coating helps to prolong the service life of vehicles.
The base panel plywood is made solely from hardwood veneers. It is then built up using phenolic resin cross-bonded weather-resistant gluing. The surface faces are impregnated with a phenolic resin moisture barrier, with one side finished in a hot-pressed high-friction pattern.
The OX’s cabin provides spacious accommodation for three people, and the driver is seated centrally. While the concept of a central driving position is not unfamiliar to Gordon Murray, it has specific advantages in supplying a vehicle to the world’s developing countries, some of which have right-hand traffic, while others drive on the left of the road. The central driver’s seat also enables more accurate placement on the road, especially on narrow tracks where overgrown vegetation may otherwise prevent a clear view ahead.
There is no shortage of headroom as the cabin is deliberately very tall, designed to accommodate a wide range of head and shoulder ‘bounce’ on bumpy roads. In front of each passenger is a huge storage bin, with two pairs of directional air vents above them, across the bottom of the windscreen.
The central dashboard column casing between the driver’s legs is a complete sub- assembly that contains all the controls for the power-assisted steering, cable gearshift and braking system. By building this up during the flat-packing stage as a single unit, it saves time and complexity during the assembly stage in the importing country. The dashboard is designed to reflect the ‘T-shape’ graphic of an ox’s head and horns, and uses reliable toggle switches as well as centrally-sited speedometer, fuel gauge and water temperature dials.
Beyond its revolutionary packaging design and two-wheel-drive all-terrain ability, the OX is full of design innovations that are specifically designed to meet the varied requirements of potential users in the developing world.
The tailgate does not merely contain the load in the back; it detaches completely from the OX and can be rotated lengthways to double as a loading ramp. The low angle of the ramp approach means that two people can roll a 44-gallon drum full of fluid up it. It could also be used to facilitate easy loading of livestock for transport.
The rear bench seat bases also have a dual purpose. The long ‘egg crate’ frames can be removed from the vehicle and used as sand ladders under the wheels to help the OX traverse challenging soft ground. A giant off-road jack can also be stowed neatly under one of the rear benches.
A convenient power take-off system is also a possibility for future applications. It works when the vehicle is stationary by using a manual brake pedal override for one of the front wheels, which means that power is diverted to the opposite side. After placing a jack under the opposite side and removing the wheel, an auxiliary adapter can then be attached to the wheel hub to supply motor drive for a range of applications.
The platform for the OX is a bespoke welded steel ladder chassis with folded ‘C’ sections across the rails, diagonal cross-bracing and lightening holes. The chassis has undergone significant development throughout the OX project, with design input from CAE analysis and a thorough twist cycle test programme on a custom-built rig.
The latest chassis is treated with the highest level anti-corrosion coating, and has been proven through full durability trials in the hands of independent validation engineers at the UK’s Millbrook Proving Ground.
The OX has superb grip over challenging terrain because it has fully independent OXGlide™ suspension on all four wheels, using a leading- and trailing-arm setup. The range of wheel travel available makes the vehicle much more stable over rough ground than is usually the case with off-road vehicles.
When unladen, 70% of the weight sits over the front wheels. Even when fully loaded, the careful design of the chassis and suspension means it shifts to a 50:50 balance from front to rear – so it retains very good traction and stability in both circumstances.
For the purposes of proving the concept and conducting durability trials, the GVT team identified the need to use a tried-and-tested engine and gearbox combination. The current powertrain in the OX prototypes is a reliable 2.2-litre diesel unit producing 99bhp and 229lb ft of torque. The latest prototype, XP3, uses a five-speed manual transmission.
This specific powertrain helps to demonstrate the capability of the OX, but it is not a requirement for production. Future versions of the OX could conceivably be powered by a range of engines, or even alternative fuel systems.
The OX is the world’s first flat-pack vehicle. The components and sub-assemblies of the OX are tightly arranged within its own frame, with a separate transport crate housing the engine and gearbox. It takes three people less than six hours to create the flat pack in the UK prior to shipping.
The flat-packs are then transferred to a shipping container, which can accommodate six OXs. This is effectively three times more efficient than transporting fully-assembled vehicles, of which only two would normally fit in a 40ft high-cube container.
Beyond the financial and environmental benefits of shipping more vehicles in one container, the flat-pack system means that OXs can be transported in greater numbers to where they are needed more quickly, and may benefit from reduced import duty.
Assembly labour is transferred to the importing country, where local professional companies will be employed to assemble and maintain the finished vehicles. Three skilled (but not necessarily expert) people can put an OX together in approximately 12 hours.
One of the hardest challenges in the flat-pack design was enabling the engine to be installed without needing to supply a crane or hoist in the kit. The design team came up with an innovation solution, packaging the engine on the base of the transport crate in precisely the correct angle for installation. When unpacked, the chassis can be lifted over and down onto the engine, where it is fixed in position, before the whole frame and powertrain is jacked up to enable the suspension and wheels to be assembled.
Gordon Murray Design has created a language-free system for assembly, using graphics and colour coding to communicate clear instructions and procedures for the build team, with all of the ‘safety elements’ pre-assembled in the flat pack.
Made in Britain, for assembly abroad
The intention with the OX is to base production of the flat-pack kits in the UK, with only the simplest of tooling required. Conventional car and truck manufacturing processes often require hundreds of millions of pounds to be invested in the production of a new model, in large part to purchase expensive stamping machinery. The OX is a radically different proposition with no such requirement for stamping, which dramatically reduces the setup costs and enables a production facility to be established within a smaller footprint.
Final assembly of the OX is transferred to the importing country, which not only provides employment opportunities, but also enables a significant reduction in costs.
Notwithstanding the lower purchase price of a kit, the OX can also avoid the highest import duties and tariffs that fully assembled imported vehicles can attract.
In Nigeria, for example, completed vehicle imports attract a duty payment of between 35% and 70% of the cost of a vehicle. However, local assembly operations benefit from greatly reduced or zero-rate duties. Imported knocked-down-kit vehicles attract zero duty, while semi-knocked-down-kit vehicles attract just 5% duty.
The low-cost simplicity of the OX extends beyond the construction and transportation. The running costs are also expected to be far lower, thanks to easy access for servicing and maintenance, as well as more cost effective replacement parts.
It is designed to be easily serviced and maintained in areas where there is limited access to conventional workshops and spare parts supplies. Access to internal components around the vehicle is made as simple as possible, with enough ground clearance to perform basic tasks underneath and consumables such as the air filter located within a locker door behind the cabin.
Clever thinking has been employed in the cabin, where access to the engine cover is under the bench seat base. Thumb screws secure the panel in place, so no tools are required to gain access to the top of the engine.
The OX’s body panels are made from extremely strong and waterproof bonded wood composite, many of which are interchangeable from side to side, enabling more efficiency in stocking spares. The glass panels at the front are flat, which keeps manufacturing and supply costs low, and are also identical in size, meaning they can be swapped around as a temporary fast-fix if they are damaged.
In countries where the traditional dealer service network model is not present and where vehicles often fail due to neglect, the simplicity of maintaining an OX, and the ease of storing and installing replacement parts if required, makes it an ideal mobility solution.
Extensive component selection, benchmarking and testing was undertaken by the GVT’s initial suppliers to ensure that OX will cope with all of the environments that it is likely to be put to work in.
The prototyping stage of the OX development has seen three versions built: XP1, XP2 and XP3. The latest prototype showcases the evolution of design and the engineering effort that has been put into making OX a truly ground-breaking vehicle.
A full testing programme has been successfully undertaken throughout the development of OX, including rigorous durability and reliability trials at the renowned Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, UK and at the IDIADA Test Facility in Catalonia, Spain.
Following the development of the first vehicle, XP1, the chassis and suspension were tested to destruction and modified accordingly. Two new prototypes were built – XP2 and XP3 – incorporating approximately 200 modifications. Many of these changes were done to reduce build costs and assembly time.
Hot weather testing was next on the agenda, and was undertaken at the IDIADA Test Facility and across rural and off-road terrain in Catalonia, Spain. Back in the UK, durability testing was carried out at the world-class Millbrook Proving Ground, to gauge the longevity of the vehicle components.
The Millbrook tests incorporated extensive wear tests on a variety of surfaces (including more than 4000km on the notorious Belgian Block Pave), as well as an accelerated corrosion test programme and vehicle quality assessments. Further rounds of modifications were implemented and parts redesigned after each testing stage, with all changes incorporated into the two latest prototypes.
Three OX prototypes have already been built by Gordon Murray Design and each have been put through rigorous testing with an investment of approximately £3 million from the Global Vehicle Trust.
The global launch of the OX aims to highlight the need for investment and support in order to progress the project to completion. The Global Vehicle Trust believes that the OX project will attract a wide range of interest from potential backers.
For example, vehicle manufacturers will recognise the obvious benefits that OX can bring as a substantial and tangible demonstration of their commitment to global corporate social responsibility. On a smaller scale, philanthropists looking to address humanitarian issues have the opportunity to directly fund a whole vehicle project that can make a real difference in the developing world.
Sir Torquil Norman said: “Feedback we have had so far from contacts in Africa and with aid agencies has been very positive. OX is about making a difference now, being part of something ground-breaking and unique. Most of all it presents a real opportunity to make a fundamental and lasting difference to people’s lives.
“Our priority now is to raise the funding to complete the testing and take the project to fruition. We believe that the OX has huge potential for charities, aid organisations and development programmes. My dream is to one day see an OX in every village in Africa.”
Although initially planned and designed for developing countries, there is likely to be demand for fully-assembled vehicles in some European markets. It is anticipated that OX will appeal to farmers, estate owners and others due to its huge carrying capacity and ability to traverse rough terrain with ease. Any profits generated by selling fully-assembled vehicles in Europe would be ploughed back into the Global Vehicle Trust to fund future developments of the OX.
Six years ago, the Global Vehicle Trust (founded by Sir Torquil Norman) and Gordon Murray Design (founded by leading automotive designer Professor Gordon Murray) embarked on a project to create a vehicle that could change lives through a revolution in mobility.
Too often, the transport of food, water, medicine and people in the developing world is dependent upon unreliable transport and uncertain availability. These vehicles are often unsuited to local conditions, are too heavy, too complicated or too expensive to maintain. It is a major problem which requires a humanitarian solution.
The result of the collaboration between the Global Vehicle Trust and Gordon Murray Design is the OX – an all-terrain lightweight truck designed to tackle the transport crisis in the developing world.
Its revolutionary flat-pack design makes delivery fast, efficient and inexpensive. The OX can carry a payload of nearly two tonnes, seat up to 13 people, carry eight 44-gallon drums or three Euro-pallets. You can find out more by visiting www.oxgvt.com.
Since revealing three prototype vehicles in 2016, the OX has won plaudits from across the automotive and transport industries. Now they need your help.
For the next phase of development, GVT want to put this flat-pack truck through a live trial on the most demanding terrain in the world. That’s why they’re launching a crowdfunding effort to initially raise £450,000 to send an #OXtoAfrica.
Crowdfunding enables anyone to donate to the mission, but they need our friends and supporters to share the news about their endeavour to help make that happen.
If you’d like to find out more or share news about the crowdfunding effort, visit