Some operations inside Mazda are referred to as sub-design. These involve building beauty into spots that mostly go unseen by customers, including fine details such as the openings for the doors and lift gate, the inside of the wheel wells and the fit and finish of the interior. Though referred to as “sub”-design, it is still an extremely important part of the process.
“Doing our best to perfect the sub-design elements has nothing to do with making the car look cool. It’s an effort to create beauty by making those spots,” said Yasunori Iguchi, an exterior designer who worked on the sub-design.
The process previously called for the designers to check the layout data once they were almost finalized, but that left little leeway for making improvements to those seldom noticed locations. To remedy this, the sub-design for the new CX-5 began in the first stages of development. It was the first time a designer was assigned full time to watch over the sub-design for a single model, and Iguchi was the person who took on that important mission. His first task was to work with the members in charge of craftsmanship development in uncovering every issue related to sub-design. He shared those issues with the engineers of the development team, as they worked together to resolve them. But it was difficult to expect those who worked on technical matters to have the same level of aesthetic sensitivity as a designer. Iguchi established five perspectives to serve as guides to discern what can be considered beautiful. All aim to simplify some element of sub-design or, as Iguchi says, “eradicate its presence.” This involves eliminating visual “noise” to heighten the appeal of the exterior and interior design.
“Mazda’s designs are acclaimed, and every member of the engineering team was as eager as the designers to improve the appearance of functional parts and create the most beautiful overall design possible,” said Shinji Fujikawa, a member of the body CAD group. A task team comprising members from planning, craftsmanship development, production technology and design was formed, and they worked across departments to question conventional wisdom. The task team carefully examined how to improve every element, from the appearance of bolts to labeling. For example, the hinges, dampers and other functional parts above the lift gate opening are visible when loading and unloading cargo. The shape of the pressed metal there is likely to be complicated. With support from the designers, the team patiently adjusted the shape of each part in 0.1mm increments for a simpler surface and smoother lines. The result is a variety of synergistic effects that create a cleaner look and an easier assembly process, all while reducing the pressure borne by the corners while driving.
“It’s not as though the engineers drafting the plans don’t care about the design, so we first took the data created in the conventional method and used a 3D printer to create three-dimensional prototypes,” said Yasuhito Sakamoto of the body planning group. Examining these closely, based on the five perspectives, we unfortunately discovered that, as the designers indicated, the lines were slightly wavy. We can’t acquire the aesthetics of a designer in a short time, so we created prototypes in order to understand the points raised by the designers and gradually refined our skills.”
A similar approach was adopted for the interior design. With interior designer Yukinori Monden and interior planning engineer Kosuke Sakaguchi taking the lead, the team worked to create a visually clean and pleasing ambience in the cabin. Hiding the parts that secure the headliner while eliminating unevenness in the ceiling’s surface creates a clean look that gives people in the back seat a sense of roominess. Using this process, a model of the ceiling was mounted in the previous CX-5 and used to convince members of the staff that it would reduce the cramped feeling occupants might otherwise experience.“A feeling of roominess is more important to people than actual dimensions,” Monden said. “Eliminating the visual noise of uneven surfaces not only creates a more beautiful finish but also provides occupants with greater comfort. These efforts pay off in many ways.”
Sakaguchi, who was responsible for the trim, paid particular attention to achieving a high-quality look in the cargo area, which customers seldom notice. With this goal in mind, he called for plush non-woven material to be attached to the walls as well as the floor. Unifying the look and feel, gave the cargo area a higher-quality ambience. He also focused on boosting cabin quietness by minimizing the space between the backs of the rear seats and the cargo area when the seats are reclined. “If we’re going to make things look better, I want to improve their function and performance as well,” Sakaguchi said.
While most of these improvements will likely go unseen, their contribution to the appeal of Mazda cars will be apparent to customers as they enjoy their cars, whether washing them or changing a tire.
Iguchi’s goal is to “raise engineers’ awareness of design.” Fujikawa said, “I want to continue tapping into the designer’s sensibilities and apply them to building cars in the future.” No doubt the products of their philosophy will further enhance the pleasure of driving a Mazda.