Inside Mazda

A Life’s Work

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to hone your craft. Meet three Mazda employees who have dedicated decades to the art of producing cars.

SHINRO KINOSHITA

Providing engineering solutions at Mazda for nearly 50 years.

The car bug bit early for Shinro Kinoshita, who spent much of his childhood taking apart his father’s Mazda three-wheeled tricycle truck. The Mazda brand struck a chord for the young Kinoshita. As he explains: “A year before I graduated from high school, Mazda introduced the Cosmo Sport to the market. I was entranced by its beautiful design and craftsmanship, but it was the car’s rotary engine that truly fascinated me. That’s when I decided to join Mazda.”

Kinoshita joined the company’s Vehicle Development Division in 1968 and spent almost a decade evolving the necessary skills, from developing new engines to chassis tuning. It was time well spent.

“I learned early on the most important thing when planning a car is to understand the customers and markets,” he says. “I like to see them in person, find out what they want and what they’re unhappy with.”

In 1980, Kinoshita was dispatched to the USA where he helped develop Mazda’s R&D department, feeding back detailed reports and compatibility scores for each vehicle’s performance in the U.S. market.

Known as the “The Man of Iron” for the fearsome test driving skills he honed on the track at the weekends, Kinoshita returned to Japan four years later where he was assigned to Mazda’s Vehicle Test Planning Dept. Initially leading the Mazda Familia AWD testing team, Kinoshita went on to oversee the development of some of Mazda’s most successful vehicles.

These include the legendary RX-7 FD, the first Mazda2, the rotary-powered RX-8, and the second- and third-generation Mazda MX-5s. Eventually, he took the reins of front-line car development in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere.

Kinoshita is still very much a visible presence at Mazda’s Hiroshima HQ. Now 68, the veteran engineer is seven years past the official retirement age. However, his skills are considered so valuable that a group of Mazda managers rallied and asked if he could stay after the retirement age.

The company agreed to give him a new role as a special expert employee, so he now spends three days a week in the office, passing on his unique skills to the next generation of Mazda R&D engineers. As an advisor on the Mazda Restoration Project, Kinoshita’s knowledge is invaluable to the young engineers who are working hard to give life back to some of Mazda’s legendary cars once again, starting with the Cosmo Sport. “The Cosmo Sport was the reason I joined Mazda,” he says. “Now, after 50 years, I’ve been given a chance to give life back to the Cosmo once again. What a lovely way to close my career.”

SHIGERU TAKAI

Mazda’s exterior quality guru; 45 years of dedicated service

Born and raised in Hiroshima to a father with a mechanic’s license, Shigeru Takai was almost inevitably going to end up working for a car company. Landing his first job at Mazda in 1972, Takai started his career in the Jig-type plant (today known as the Tool & Die Production Department) where he spent two years hand-polishing cars on the production line. At the time, both the stamping and polishing process were not as refined as they are now, so it was tough work.

In his third year, Takai was given access to the stamping press machine, the device that turns sheet metal into the actual car body. He quickly learned how the upper and lower dies match together to create the metal body, and the extreme difficulty of creating a good die that would form the ideal shape with the minimum of defects.

It was the refinement of these processes that has defined Takai’s work ever since. While panels still need to be polished by hand on today’s cars, the Tool & Die Production Department has continued to change in pursuit of optimization. Mazda’s overall system is now much more efficient and that’s due to Takai. “In my career I’m most proud of having been able to create technological innovations that reduce the amount of effort on site,” Takai states. These processes have ultimately given Mazda’s engineers the ability to put cars into production that are as true to designers’ concept models as possible.

Passing his position onto his successor in 2008, Takai started a new career as a lead engineer at the age of 54, with his ultimate aim being to drive the constant innovation behind the processes of molding and making new stamps.

Working with his fellow engineers through every production process, Takai is constantly looking to identify opportunities for improvement. His wealth of experience in the areas of polishing, stamping, and vehicle assembly—gained at Mazda’s production facility in Japan, as well as various other plants around the world —has given Takai the reputation for being the company’s guru in exterior quality at the production site.

Currently, Takai is back in the line to support the production of the stamping die for the next generation of Mazda cars. He’s also invented a new hole-punching technology that will speed up the stamping process. He clearly isn’t ready to retire yet. “Right now, I’m focusing on passing my skills onto the younger generations, so that they can make judgments once I leave. My challenge will not end until I’ve passed on everything I mastered in my 45 years at Mazda.”

MIKIO NAKAJIMA

40 years at Mazda; designer of the original RX-7.

Mikio Nakajima was born in Tokyo in 1950, the son of a metal-carving master. Greatly influenced by his father’s work, which was of a high enough standard to have been commissioned by the emperor of Japan, Nakajima decided to pursue design as a profession. However, it was in the early stages of an industrial design course that he discovered a handicap that could jeopardize his ambitions, namely partial color-blindness.

Art schools and businesses turned him down, but he refused to give up on his dream. Finally, Nakajima met with Mazda and he started his automotive design career in 1971, sketching and designing the grille and door handles for the Series II Cosmo AP.

Nakajima continued to design production models in the design department until the global oil crisis of 1973, which hit the Japanese economy hard. As car sales slowed, so did car development. Spurred on by Mazda’s design boss at the time, Matasaburo Maeda, Nakajima and his colleagues made the most of the ensuing downtime to do some serious research.

“We studied various sports cars—their concepts, history, sales volumes, how they were put into production,” he explains.

“We wanted to understand the essence of each sports car’s design and what it was that fascinated so many people.”

Mazda Design was impressed by his findings. At the time, Mazda was planning to kick off a sports car project, and the design division was exploring various ideas for that car, so they held an internal design competition. Nakajima and his team won; their proposal eventually becoming the Mazda RX-7.

This evergreen sports car is well remembered for its pop-up headlights, an idea that was initially rejected. “We were trying to compete with Porsche, so we designed our car to be as low and sharp as possible to give it the aerodynamics required to make it to 125 mph on the autobahn. That would never happen with rigid headlights,” he explains.

In the mid-1990s Nakajima discovered a newfound love of painting watercolors, inspired by a brief stint managing and designing landscape and facility designs for the Toyo Matelan Corporation.

He returned to Mazda a few years later, where he played an essential role in supporting the establishment of Mazda’s brand and design strategy. Finally, in 2010 he retired and started his new life as a freelance designer and watercolor artist, regularly exhibiting his work. He now teaches painting and creates the official posters for Mazda Fan Events in Japan.

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