Self-driving cars are coming; it’s no longer a question if autonomous vehicles will hit the market but when they’ll become available.
For enthusiast-focused brands like Mazda, this impending shift sounds like a computerized death sentence, but that’s not necessarily the case.
The subject of autonomous autos has caused untold consternation in studios, boardrooms and engineering centers around the world. “It used to terrify me,” said Jacques Flynn, lead designer at Mazda. “[But] I talk about it so much with all the designers at work now that… it’s not scary.” In fact, he said they view it as an opportunity.
How exactly will the Zoom-Zoom brand, which is perhaps most famous for its MX-5 Miata, a sports car that revived an entire segment when it debuted nearly 30 years ago, tackle the autonomous challenge? “That’s a tough one for us,” said Flynn, admitting that he doesn’t have an exact answer yet, but he did acknowledge, “There are ways to take that technology and make the driving experience just as good if not better.”
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And whatever innovative ways they come up with to use self-driving features, Mazda must remain true to what it stands for. “I think there’s opportunities there for this brand that may not be looked at as much by other groups,” said Flynn. He noted that German companies have a proclivity for adding more and more technology to their vehicles, even if it’s not always particularly useful. Contrasting with rivals, Mazda could take autonomy and use it “to excite the drive in other ways,” rather than just building another personal shuttle bus.
Flynn said, “It’s not about just falling asleep behind the wheel and going to work.” Sure, self-driving autos will likely be safer and more convenient, but he noted that this technology could also be used to push handling limits farther than before or in other ways that haven’t been explored yet.
“The million-dollar question is, ‘How do we integrate it?’” asked Flynn. “How do we implement that in a way that doesn’t detract from the message of the brand?” These are questions that engineers and designers at Mazda will undoubtedly continue wrestling with in the years ahead. And it will be interesting to see how they finally tackle the burning issue of autonomy, hopefully in a way that doesn’t sacrifice any Zoom-Zoom character.
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