After much hype (and 1 van), Mazda rethinks design plan

Automotive News reports on Mazda's new design direction.

Automotive News
3 min read
Mazda Nagare concept
Nagare, the Japanese word for "flow," has been the styling basis for multiple Mazda concept cars unveiled since 2006. Mazda

After four years of hyping its curvy, fluid Nagare styling philosophy--but developing only one production vehicle with the look--Mazda has changed design course.

Now the Japanese carmaker wants to go with a simpler, more upscale style. So the design language seen in the Shinari concept car being unveiled at the Los Angeles auto show this week represents Mazda's future.

The Shinari look will begin to appear on production vehicles within two years, says Derek Jenkins, design director for Mazda North American Operations.

What happened to Nagare? It went out with global design director Laurens Van den Acker, who developed the look but moved to Renault last year after a three year stint with Mazda.

Nagare, the Japanese word for "flow," has been the styling basis for multiple Mazda concept cars unveiled since 2006.

The redesigned 2012 Mazda5 minivan that goes on sale in January is the first production vehicle to incorporate the Nagare design ideas. It will also be the last, Jenkins says.

Van den Acker was replaced by Ikuo Maeda, who as a designer for Mazda in Hiroshima penned the silhouette of the Mazda RX-8 sports car.

Jenkins, 40, oversees Mazda's North American design studio, about an hour south of Los Angeles in Irvine, Calif. The studio is one of Mazda's three global design centers. The U.S. studio competes with counterparts near Frankfurt, Germany, and in Hiroshima, Japan, to come up with exterior and interior designs for production vehicles.

For example, prior to Jenkins' arrival at Mazda in 2009 the U.S. studio had a hand in designing the current Mazda3 and Mazda6 sedans, as well as the CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers.


The low-slung four-door Shinari concept, which looks more Aston Martin than Miata, embodies kodo, Japanese for "soul of motion," Mazda says.

Jenkins says the transition from Nagare to kodo is more evolution than outright change in direction. Flowing lines and the emphasis on the "face" of new vehicles--the configuration of the grille, headlights and fascia--will continue with the kodo philosophy

But the heavily textured surfaces of the Nagare era, seen in the beltline of the new Mazda5, will be gone, Jenkins said. New kodo-inspired designs will also feature a more cab-rearward layout; Nagare concepts were more cab-forward, Jenkins said.

"We won't be pushing so much of the textured or layered surface treatments," Jenkins said. "We've gone back to a simpler, cleaner overall palette."

A major point of emphasis will be on vehicle proportions. Wheels will be closer to the corners, and vehicles will sit lower and wider, Jenkins said.

Moving upscale

The new design direction is part of an effort to evoke an image of prestige. Mazda executives say that the goal is not to get itself into premium- or luxury-car territory, but to make its vehicles distinctive and objects of drivers' desire.

"Things like proportions, the front end, surface quality and how the car sits on its wheels are so fundamental to why a car looks strong and expensive and desirable," Jenkins said, "and I think those are things that aren't so cost-prohibitive that we can't bring them into a more value-oriented proposition."

Jenkins says the company also wants to improve its interiors--aluminum trim, for example, rather than surfaces painted to look like brushed aluminum.

"I always use the analogy that if I pull up to a restaurant, it doesn't matter if it's a $15,000 car or a $50,000 car, I want it to look good in that setting," Jenkins says. "It is ultimately part of the ownership experience."

(Source: Automotive News)