Ask a 10-year-old what he or she wants to be as a grown up, and most would expect an answer such as astronaut to zookeeper. But if you had asked 10-year-old Dave Coleman, development engineer at Mazda’s research and development center, he would have told you he wanted to be an engineer at Mazda.
“There was a period when my dad bought a Mazda RX-7, and I turned into a total rotary nut,” Coleman recalled. “When people would ask what I wanted to do, I’d say I wanted to work at Mazda’s R&D.”
As it turned out, the road to his current job as a vehicle development engineer had a few interesting curves in it, but now Coleman finds himself right where he planned to be.
“After getting my degree in engineering, I really wanted to work in the car business,” Dave remarked. “I ended up working in the aftermarket, then I went to work at a car magazine. I always thought it was a far-fetched goal, but I ended up as the engineering editor at Sport Compact Car magazine. I worked there for about eight years.”
Coleman’s experience as a journalist helped define his thoughts on how to build cars properly.
“I got to drive all kinds of cars in that job,” he explained. “If you’re paying attention, it’s really a good way to figure out vehicle dynamics and what different changes can do. And with an aftermarket magazine, people are always changing things so they can play around and see what does what.”
His time at Sport Compact Car introduced Coleman to Mazda’s in-house engineers.
“Every time I’d come to a Mazda event, I’d be talking to the enthusiasts in R&D,” he said. “So when I was ready to get out of the magazine business and over to an automaker, Mazda was the obvious place to be. There’s no question that Mazda is a car guy’s car company.”
If you ask Dave for his touchstone vehicle – the best he’s ever driven – he doesn’t hesitate.
“The 1999 Miata was perfect,” he declared. “It was natural, neutral and responsive. The car was completely intuitive. You could just balance it with all four tires sliding perfectly in the corner. It had so much confidence. Now every time I drive a car that doesn’t live up to what I know is possible by driving that Miata, I’m disappointed.”
That perfect feeling that Dave describes is what Mazda calls Jinba Ittai–translated from Japanese as “horse and rider as one.”
“Jinba Ittai is a concise way to sum up making a car feel completely natural,” Dave pointed out. “When we get that right, you don’t even notice that we got it right, because you’re really enjoying driving the car.”
The opportunity to create Jinba Ittai is what keeps Dave coming back to work at Mazda every day.
“We’re all on the same page for what we want the car to do,” Dave explained. “I know guys at other car companies who have to argue that they should make a car that’s fun to drive. There’s none of that at Mazda. The whole company is on board.”
At this point in the winding road of his career, Dave is pleased with the experiences that shaped him and his point of view on developing cars.
“I don’t have any regrets about the career path I’ve taken to get here,” he reflected. “If I had been laser-focused on getting into Mazda when I graduated from school, I would have missed a lot of the opportunities I had to drive so many different cars and play around with them. So moving around a bit and having a broader experience can help rather than just going in one direction the whole time.”