Designers at Mazda draw inspiration from nature, fashion and beautiful products when crafting the brand’s cars and crossovers.
This probably isn’t too different from how other automakers’ studios function, but what sets this Japanese car company apart is an emphasis on something less tangible: emotion. “How does that make you feel, and how can that translate into a vehicle’s exterior design?” asked Jacques Flynn (pronounced Jack), Mazda’s lead designer.
A 10-year veteran at the scrappy Hiroshima-based firm, Flynn’s resume is impressive by any stretch, even if he hasn’t been in the business as long as, say, Hyundai-Kia’s Peter Schreyer or one of the Callum brothers. Among other projects, he led the development of the current MX-5 and played an important role in creating both the CX-5 and CX-9.
Whether it’s a sports car or crossover, one thing that sets Mazda’s lineup apart from those of rivals is its unified appearance. All their products have a certain cohesiveness to them, like they were created by the same team, a feat not many automakers are able to achieve.
Enabling this visual harmony is an overarching design theme. Kodo “soul of motion” has been a Mazda staple for about five years now. It’s a styling ethos characterized by clean surfaces, attention to detail and the notion that human hands can give vehicles a soul. Is this design or some sort of animistic religion? At Mazda, it’s both.
“That’s why I think our cars have got this unique feeling to them, they don’t feel generic, they don’t feel like any other marque out there,” said Flynn. Kodo gives them a stylistic edge.
However, this advantage doesn’t come easily and it cannot be taken for granted. Case in point, the brand’s RX Vision concept that debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2015. “That car was hard,” said Flynn, laughing while recounting the challenge it presented. “The complexity to that surfacing is really, really difficult.”
He added there are no lines on this rotary-powered design study, just simple surfacing, which he noted requires strict volume control; something that’s tough to achieve. “But at the same time,” he added, “When it’s done right, you end up with something really beautiful and timeless.”
Kodo has been a quintessential part of Mazda’s DNA for the better part of a decade, but curiously designers are not afraid of it getting stale. In fact, they have no plans to replace it with a new theme anytime soon.
“It’s not, ‘Yeah, alright, out with the old, in with the new’… that’s not the plan,” explained Flynn while talking about Kodo’s future. “I think it’s got a ton of room to evolve and in my opinion, improve,” something they plan on doing by continuing to refine its signature forms and flourishes. “And that comes down to just boiling it down, just keep boiling it down and refining it to its purest form.”
As Kodo evolves Flynn admitted he’s not sure if they’ll ever distil it down to its most elemental essence, but that’s not going to prevent them from trying. “That’s an ultimate goal,” he explained, “That our whole lineup just feels timeless.”
Sculpting a beautiful car is one thing, getting it into volume production is quite another. Fortunately for Mazda, their design and engineering departments are closely knit, working to serve one another.
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In California for instance, Flynn said the engineering department is just upstairs from their design studio, allowing for an unusually close and cooperative relationship between these two divisions, something that allows Mazda to produce more stylish and innovative vehicles. “We never go to them and they say, ‘There’s no way. That’s crazy.’ They’re like, ‘Alright, this is going to be difficult give us some time’… they’re always wanting to challenge,” said Flynn. “You couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
He also talked about the mutual respect each department has for the other. “They want us to achieve our vision, at the same time we want to support them and deliver something that can be packaged properly,” explained Flynn, adding that this collaborative spirit allows Mazda to really push their design in ways rival automakers may not be able to.
Love it, loathe it, or merely like it, Mazda’s Kodo design theme is here to stay, giving the company’s vehicle lineup a unique and cohesive appearance. “We don’t want our cars to feel trendy… the cars have got to age really, really well,” said Flynn.
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