The new Mazda design studios are a lesson in crisp airiness. They are built over three floors, all of which look out through glazed walls onto the viewing area. There’s a fabulous sense of calm in here and the workspaces are immaculate and uncluttered.
It’s not quite the same in the clay modelling studio. Rice assures us that modelling a full-sized car requires significant fitness and flexibility, the modellers pushing themselves physically across a full-sized model when wielding an unusual array of tools. Even a small demonstration on an abstract model by one of the modellers results in a huge amount of clay shavings littering the floor.
It is clear that Rice has huge admiration for the modellers. It’s the one part of the whole industrial process that relies purely on the hands-on skill of craftsmen. It’s interesting to note Mazda’s pride in its clay modelling. It says that a typical size difference between a clay model and a ‘mass-market car’ is between 1mm and 5mm, but Mazda says its production cars are accurate to within 0.3mm to 0.1mm of the definitive clay model.
But the main reason we’ve been let inside the new design studio is to allow Rice and Mazda to demonstrate that the firm’s ‘Kodo: Soul of Motion’ design philosophy is not just marketing hype, but also so solidly grounded that it could be applied to any type of vehicle.
The official line is admirably clear. Mazda’s global design chief Ikuo Maeda says: “It’s about creating cars that embody the dynamic beauty of life. Cars that visually suggest different expressions of this energy. In Japan, we feel that craftspeople inject life into what they make, so objects that receive the love and caring attention of these craftspeople have a vital force; a soul.”
So this is our chance to try to create a ‘Kodo’ vehicle and Rice hands out a brief titled ‘Kodo Recipe’. His four guidelines are brief, to say the least:
1. Breathe life (soul) into your car. Make it more than just twisted metal.
2. Movement through reflection or pure motion.
3. Pure and elegant.
4. Sensual (sexy).
With that, I’m teamed up with senior Mazda designer Kota Atagawa. My self-selected brief is to have another go at reinventing the iconic RX-series. Sure, Mazda has already had a crack at this with the RX-Vision, but I had another idea. The rebirth of the rotary engine is proving very tricky in an age of stringent pollution and CO2 regulations, so why not play to its strengths by using the powerplant as a range-extender in an electrically driven concept car?