To be a successful engineer in any field, you need to be detail-oriented and passionate about your chosen discipline. For Ruben Archilla, senior manager at Mazda’s Research and Development Center, this was the result of a lifelong interest in cars and a passion to make them better.
“There are a few things that motivate me, and they all come from a similar place,” Ruben explained. “I know from my own experience and history how a car can make a positive impact on one’s life. My love of cars and motorcycles is something that my grandfather passed to me. We spent countless great hours when I was a kid taking road trips, working on his Corvette, and working on my car when I finally got one.”
When he arrived at college, Ruben already knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“I studied mechanical engineering,” Ruben said. “I graduated in 1992, and the job market was a bit challenging at that time. There were a lot of experienced engineers that I had to compete with. But I sent my resume to Mazda, and it worked out.”
Apart from a brief sabbatical, Ruben has been an engineer at Mazda for the last 24 years. In that time, he has helped engineer every new vehicle that Mazda has launched in North America.
“Mazda’s got more of a family atmosphere than a lot of other companies,” Ruben insisted. “I work with genuinely good people, and we’ve had a string of really good products. Each car we make is a different feeling of pride.”
When you spend your life working at a company like Mazda, you become a part of the culture, and the culture shapes you as well.
“Even if you are not a full-on car enthusiast, a car is a really significant and emotional purchase for most people,” Ruben said, “and it is common for many people to spend hours each day in their car commuting. Making that time count is an opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I really do believe that a car that makes a connection with people can make their lives better, that a great car can bring joy, pride, well-being, confidence, and other positive emotions.”
Ruben is a crusader for Mazda’s theory of human-centric design, where the perceptions of the driver are the focal point throughout the development process.
“There are two areas in which we apply our theory,” Ruben explained. “One is in how the car drives, and the other is how the car fits around you. Both of them derive from the same goal, which is to create the best, most intuitive relationship between the car and the driver. We refer to that concept as ‘Jinba Ittai’ or ‘horse and rider as one,’ and we’ve been using that language since the late 1980s, before I started here.”
Over the course of his career, Ruben has been part of dramatic and transformative change in the way Mazda develops its cars.
“It used to be that making that feeling of oneness was a really subjective thing,” Ruben recalled. “But we’ve worked hard to make it more objective and quantifiable. We reimagined the traditional process of vehicle development, and now look at human sensitivities as the starting point when setting targets. Making great cars is as much about understanding what customers perceive as it is about understanding how the car works. That’s true for every vehicle we make, from the MX-5 to the CX-9.”
The result of Ruben’s passion for improvement includes advances like Mazda’s SKYACTIV technologies, which improve performance and fuel economy while keeping the driver as the focal point.
After 24 years on the job, Ruben has some specific advice for aspiring engineers.
“Make sure you gain practical knowledge as well as theoretical knowledge,” he said. “I recommend taking advantage of any opportunities to get your hands dirty. Whether it’s participating in design competitions, things like Formula SAE or Mini Baja, or working on your own car or racing projects, I think being an enthusiast first is important.”