At the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda revealed the Kai concept–a sleek and sculptural stunner that clearly signals what the next-generation Mazda3 could look like. We spent 30 minutes with Kai concept designer, Yasutake Tsuchida, who is a god amongst Mazda fans for leading the exterior design of the mind-blowing Furai concept back in 2009.
Tsuchida opened by asking us to consider the RX Vision sports car concept (that debuted in Tokyo two years ago) and the Vision Coupe concept (which debuted alongside the Kai) as bookends, with the Kai concept positioned in between–but closer to the RX Vision. This despite both of the Vision concepts’ long hoods, pushed-back green houses, and exaggerated dash-to-axle ratios. What do rear-wheel-drive sports car proportions mean for the future of Mazda’s front-drive compact? We queried Tsuchida-san.
MT: Why are Mazda’s latest concept cars focused on exaggerated rear-wheel-drive proportions when the majority of the production cars are based on front-wheel-drive platforms?
YT: “So first of all, I’m going to say that I’m not the Vision chief designer, so it is very difficult for me to get into detail on that!” (laughs)
“But I would say this, the Vision that you saw is the ideal of what we have in terms of the design–whether this becomes commercialized, whether it becomes a production car is something we have to investigate. From the perspective of design, we must also have an ideal that we aspire to. This is really an expression of what we feel, directly, that we should be pursuing.”
“I think what is important for us is that when you compare the Kai concept and coupe, and I hope you felt this, the expression style is different, the proportions are different, but I think there is an underlying consistency between the two. It’s what gets you to say, when you look at the car, “Yeah, that’s got Mazda in it.”
“Because of this consistency, I don’t think that there is going to be such a huge gap between what you can expect and what we are showing.”
MT: Mazda’s last three concepts, RX Vision, Vision Coupe, and Kai, are all very sculptural, and your new design language stresses minimalism. But your much larger home rivals–Toyota, Honda, and Nissan–are doing much busier designs, with character lines everywhere and often awful executions of “floating” roofs. How is it that Mazda is able to stand apart?
YT: “I think for us, with only 2 percent market share globally, we can’t be doing the same things as the main players. We have to think about how we can stand out; that’s why we came up with the Japanese aesthetics and really honing down to beauty through subtraction. That’s the method that we’ve adopted to stand out from the rest.”
“What we’ve looked into when we talk about Japanese aesthetics is that when you keep things as simple as possible, the understatedness is something, which in turn, gives you more depth. I’m hoping that people will be able to feel this intuitively in our design.”
MT: Does this philosophy come from the executive leadership of Mazda? Do you have support from the top down? Surely there are executives who don’t understand design and ask you to add more “stuff” like your larger rivals have?
YT: “We have [Mazda Head of Global Design] Mr. Maeda for this (laughs). And I believe it is a good company in terms of this management structure, because he has the utmost trust of all the other executives. So in terms of design, if Maeda-san says yes, then the other executives follow suit.”
We will see how much of this trust, sculptural minimalism, and frankly sexy proportionality makes it to future Mazda vehicles.
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