Interview with Ikuo Maeda

Interview with Ikuo Maeda

We talked to Mazda Chief Designer Ikuo Maeda about the new KODO design on the KAI Concept and Vision Coupe to see what’s new in KODO Design 2.0.

Red Dot 21 (1): Please describe for us the language of forms of the new KODO design in a few words.

Ikuo Maeda: The next phase of KODO design will pursue a more elegant and premium look while retaining the sense of vitality for which the design philosophy is known. By creating an elegance that embodies the fundamental values of Japanese aesthetics, we aim to establish a mode of expression that is unique to the Mazda brand.

Red Dot 21 (2): And what is the difference to the first concepts of KODO design? Please describe it in a few sentences.

Ikuo Maeda: Previously, we achieved a sense of vitality by capturing the frame-by-frame dynamism of living creatures and translating it directly into the physical form of our cars. The next phase aims for a more natural vitality by creating an ever-changing interplay of light and shadow that glides smoothly over the bodywork as the viewing angle changes.

Red Dot 21 (3): What was your inspiration for the new KODO design of the Mazda Vision Coupé?

Ikuo Maeda: Vision Coupé embodies an interpretation of Japanese aesthetics in vehicle form. Much of traditional Japanese culture is based on the minimalist concept of less is more; non-essential elements are omitted to create an abundance of empty space. Likewise, the exterior of Vision Coupé forgoes character lines and similar devices, adopting an extremely simple three-dimensional form. Light and shadow are reflected in the “empty” spaces of the body sides, and the reflections flow smoothly in line with the movements of the vehicle, producing a natural-feeling sense of vitality.

Ikuo Maeda speech

In the interior, we applied the concept of ma (literally “space”) from traditional Japanese architecture. The idea is to avoid shutting off spaces entirely and maintain a connection with the outside world. In Vision Coupé this is achieved with structural forms – center console, instrument panel, door trim, etc. – that intersect without touching. The spaces encourage the flow of air and help create an interior space that embraces occupants but does not feel confining. Mazda has a history of creating cars with exquisite proportions, such as the R360 coupe and Luce rotary coupe. These models focused on beauty in an age preoccupied with the notion of efficiency, and their style became the origins of the “Mazda elegance” of today. The Vision Coupé is grounded in this style but embodies a uniquely Japanese beauty to express a new kind of elegance.

Red Dot 21 (4): What are the contents of the new Mazda KAI Concept? Please give some specific examples!

Ikuo Maeda: The aim was to condense this more mature iteration of KODO into a smaller package and create an allure that appeals instinctually.

  1. Proportions that realize a condensed presentation of power and beauty in which everything is drawn inwards.
  2. New styling that aims to present the body and cabin as a single solid mass, accentuating the characteristic solidity and presence of a hatchback along with an incredibly powerful stance.
  3. The body design does away with character lines and instead adopts boldly punctuated surfaces with constantly changing reflections that create a lively, emotional expression.
  4. The front face further evolves the three-dimensional depth and deeply sculpted features characteristic of KODO design. The signature wing combines with the deep luster of the dark metallic grille to emphasize a mature, sporty nature that befits a hatchback.

Red Dot 21 (5): What are the biggest challenges in the realization of the KAI Concept?

Ikuo Maeda: The question was how to keep the form as simple as possible but still achieve an animated look with real depth. Forgoing sharp character lines, it was particularly tricky to create a sense of vitality using only the reflection of light. Another major challenge was achieving a form that presents the body and cabin as a single solid mass.

Red Dot 21 (6): As part of the KAI Concept, a new combustion process was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show 2017, the so-called “Spark Controlled Compression Ignition”, or SPCCI in a short form. Please describe us what is new in this process.

Ikuo Maeda: Mazda’s proprietary combustion technique, Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI), has paved the way for the world’s first commercial gasoline engine employing compression ignition. It uses a spark to create an expanding fireball when the fuel-air mixture is under maximum pressure. The fireball acts like a second piston, further raising the pressure in the cylinder until the whole mixture combusts at once (compression ignition). SPCCI allows for seamless switching between compression and spark ignition and solves the long-standing problem of enabling compression ignition over a wide range of conditions.

Thanks to SPCCI, Mazda’s new SKYACTIV-X combines the free-revving character of a gasoline engine with the excellent fuel economy, torque and initial response of a diesel. SKYACTIV-X delivers 10-30 percent more torque than the current SKYACTIV-G. Moreover, compression ignition makes possible a super lean burn, helping to improve engine efficiency up to 20–30 percent over the current SKYACTIV-G. And because the engine is highly efficient over a wide range of rpms and engine loads, it allows more latitude in gear-ratio selection. Previously, you essentially had to make a choice between fuel economy and performance, but the SKYACTIV-X will provide high levels of both.

Ikuo Maeda Mazda SKYACTIV-G

Red Dot 21 (7): All Mazda activities are in line with the sustainability strategy called “Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030”. What role does sustainability play for you? Please give us specific examples.

Ikuo Maeda: As a designer, my goal is to create beauty that is universal, unaffected by current trends. In terms of the exterior, that means proportions that feel right for an entity that is predicated on movement, helping the car to fit naturally in its surroundings. I want to create a silhouette that presents the body and tires as one, like the legs of an athletic animal. And in terms of form, I want to avoid anything that looks artificial or unnatural; I want to create the kind of quality where the car functions naturally as an element that makes the immediate environment even more beautiful. In the interior, I want to create a space that helps people feel at one with the car, and a cockpit that provides true driving pleasure and activates people’s natural abilities.

Red Dot 21 (8): If you look back to the Tokyo Motor Show 2017, which were your personal favourite highlights in car design beside the concepts of Mazda?

Ikuo Maeda: The BMW 8 Concept.

Red Dot 21 (9): How do you approach a new project? That is to say, how do you get started when you receive a new order?

Ikuo Maeda: The first thing is to determine what kind of new value this car is going to bring to the brand. We have to carefully consider the significance of any new car, and then decide how it will be positioned within the brand portfolio. Then we need to clarify how it will relate to our design vision before we start to consider the appropriate modes of expression to work with.

Red Dot 21 (10): Looking back, which was your most challenging car design?

Ikuo Maeda: A Vision Coupé and RX-Vision With these cars, I was trying to embody a new design language while staying faithful to the philosophy of KODO. The fourth-generation MX-5 The MX-5 has its own unique heritage and a huge number of fans around the world.  Creating something that would exceed the expectations of those fans, that would not negate the first three generations of the model, and that would look fresh but still be recognizable as part of the KODO design family, was an enormous challenge.

Posted on 09.01.2018

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