It’s been many decades now since computer software was developed which could be used for designing cars. However, while computers are used in many aspects of the development of a new model, design work – more correctly, the styling – is still something that is best done by humans. Various computerised tools can help speed up the process but a computer still cannot match the human brain when it comes to shaping a car body.
At Mazda Design, the car is even treated as an art form and has been used as a strong selling point of the brand. From time to time, the company shows off advanced designs which are often a preview of future models or the evolving direction of clearly defined design DNA.
The latest example which will be unveiled today at the 2017 Tokyo Motorshow is the Mazda Vision Coupe featuring a next-generation design said to be rooted in Japanese aesthetic sensibilities. With this new design, Mazda is striving for an elegant and refined style that conveys unaffected vitality.
The origins of elegance in Mazda cars can be traced back to the R360 Coupe and Luce Rotary Coupe. In an age preoccupied with efficiency, great effort was devoted to creating beautiful proportions for these two coupes that were sold in the 1960s. The playful warmth and beauty they expressed became the cornerstone of Mazda’s expression of elegance.
The Mazda Vision Coupe builds on this heritage in proposing the company’s next-generation design. The ‘coupe’ naming pays tribute to its pedigree of elegance and sets the stage for a new start for KODO design.
“The car we have in mind is the kind of car that can only come from Mazda, a brand embodying the emphasis that Japanese culture places on the bond between human beings and the tools they use. Creating cars that can do this is the challenge that drives Mazda Design,” said Ikuo Maeda, Managing Executive Officer in charge of Mazda Design and Brand Style.
The Vision Coupe adopts the basic form of a flowing 4-door coupe. Its proportions conform to the golden ratio of classic coupe design with the cabin positioned toward the rear of the body. The silhouette hints of powerful forward momentum, creating the impression of a high-performance machine.
In pursuing this expression, the Vision Coupe forgoes the rhythmical motion that prior iterations of KODO design emphasized in body styling. It opts instead for a simple form that strips away all non-essential elements to embody a ‘less is more’ aesthetic. A powerful axis runs from the badge on the grille through to the one at the rear, evoking the look and feel of supple steel. All movements centre on this vector, creating a ‘one motion form’ that is extraordinarily simple yet conveys a sense of speed.
The sharp and powerful highlight on the body shoulder is the primary focus of this model’s design and imparts a dignified air of tension. The sides of the body are crafted to present linear transitions in light and shadow that change continuously in conjunction with the car’s motion. This subtle movement of light and shadow makes the Vision Coupe look truly alive.
Bringing out the beauty of natural phenomena through exquisite, ever-changing patterns of light is an aesthetic that is unique to the art of Japan. A living drama is created from the dance of light and shadow as they change from moment to moment, and the Japanese are particularly attuned to these delicate transformations. This interplay of light and shade, together with the notion of ‘the beauty of empty space’, has been incorporated into the side view of this model.
The reflection of light over the surface flows linearly with the movement of the car, creating a vehicle that seems truly alive. The predominant highlight on the body shoulder is strong and sharply-styled, emphasizing a powerful physique, while softer, more elegant light patterns shimmer across the empty spaces extending over the vehicle; the combination of these two different light effects brings the Vision Coupe truly to life. The light that dances across this beautiful form, brought to perfection over the course of two years by craftsmen working by hand, takes this bodywork to the level of art.
The interior space design applies the traditional Japanese architectural concept of ‘ma’ (literally meaning ‘space’), the meticulous use of space to create atmosphere. The intentional use of spaces between components such as the instrument panel, door trim and centre console introduces ma and encourages a flow of air between them. This creates the impression of a space that flows in the direction of the car’s motion, gently embracing occupants, yet without any sense of confinement.
“Going forward, we plan to focus on showcasing the bodywork of our cars through an ever-changing interplay of light and shadow that glides over the surface as the viewing angle changes, creating cars that look truly alive. Our mission here is to craft a form that is beautifully simple, with all superfluous elements stripped away, and then breathe life into this creation through an exquisitely honed display of light across its body,” Mr. Maeda explained.
Also wanting to create a connection between driver and car that is like that of a rider and his or her horse, Mazda designers strove to establish the appropriate relationship between driver and the controls with which he or she interacts. One example is in the way the driver touches the centre console to call up information on the display. This could be compared to the way a rider communicates with the horse by stroking its mane and back. Implementation of such unique, intuitive methods for strengthening the bond between driver and car helps express the Jinba-ittai experience.
The Vision Coupe may suggest the design of a future sports model or it may just be something to impress visitors with. Nevertheless, many design elements around the car are likely to find their way into future models and as always, even though they may look complex, the production people will do their best to replicate what the designers create. Often, what designers come up with does not make it to the production model because the production side prefers simpler forms that are easier to manufacture but this is not the case at Mazda.
“Given current technological trends, we believe it is vital that cars retain their intimate positions in the lives of their drivers—almost like a member of the family. What’s more, we intend to work still harder to bring out the special beauty and appeal of cars themselves. A form created by applying the vision of Japanese aesthetics, beautiful and refined yet exuding a sense of warmth—a comfortable space where humans can truly feel at one with the vehicle. This is the vision Mazda has in mind when we design our cars,” said Mr. Maeda, whose father was the designer of the original Mazda RX-7 which was introduced in 1978.