Mazda unveiled the Koeru concept car during the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show last month. While the Koeru adopts SkyActiv technology and the Kodo – Soul of Motion design theme, it is a crossover that expresses the new face of Mazda, and its commercialization is being based on market feedback and demands.
Aside from their headquarters in Hiroshima, Mazda also has development bases in Germany, United States, and China. I got the chance to do a coverage in Mazda R&D Europe (MRE), one of those development bases, which is located in Oberursel in Hessen, Germany.
The MRE was established in May 1990, and it will welcome its 25th anniversary this year, making it Mazdaâ€™s oldest development base outside of Japan. Its main role is to conduct research on technologies for cars under local road conditions, evaluation, design development, and examination of the European market. Kenichiro Saruwatari, former in-charge of developing the Axela, now works as the General Manager of MRE. Among 100 MRE staff, 18 of them are Japanese, and they send the feedback of the German staff to the headquarters in Japan.
Saruwatari said, “As expected, there are many automakers that have their own philosophy, particularly starting from German premium brands. While we are learning from those philosophies, we convey and reflect on the value of our concept, which is ‘to create a bond with our customers and offer products that anyone can enjoy,’ to the headquarters. Moreover, there is a huge significance from our point of view of manufacturing cars that can make the customers feel relaxed when driving long distances on autobahns and rough roads.” According to him, MRE is at an important location among the other overseas development bases.
â—† The tests they conduct on public roads also correspond to the strict environmental standards
In a team called Product Evaluation (PEV), they evaluate vehicle performance based on its powertrain, vehicle dynamics, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and craftsmanship. Thirty members are enrolled in this team, and one-third of them are engineers who are dispatched from Japan for a two to three-year cycle.
Since Mazda doesn’t have a test course in Europe, they basically gather data and do benchmarking on public roads. For experimental purposes, they prepare four test courses, and if there is a need for special evaluation, they will rent a test course and take the vehicles to the NÃ¼rburgring.
On behalf of the PEV team, Ryugo Fujiwara said, “Our advantage here is that we can easily get our hands on the latest German cars and test them. We can conduct a quick testing and experiment, and it can support us in deciding what our purpose of developing new set of cars would be.” Considering the cost and time, it would be unrealistic to transport the vehicles from Europe to headquarters and vice versa, so they actually conduct evaluation of its efficiency in Germany.
A certain area in the establishment, where they measure exhaust gas and nitrogen oxides, has two chassis rolls for gasoline and diesel vehicles. They gather the exhaust gases that are generated from emission tests using the established cycle in Europe and assess it using machines. MRE discloses the data with their shareholders. Aside from using new cars, sometimes MRE would also borrow vehicles from general car owners and conduct tests. They also make the same evaluation on older vehicles, and they highly regard whether they can pass the standards or not.
Moreover, MRE will be implementing a condition wherein they will pass the required numerical value based on actual driving in 2017 through the exhaust gas regulation in Europe. With that countermeasure, they will also be conducting tests through a machine called a portable emissions measurement system (PEMS). Through the machine that measures the gas coming from the exhaust valve by gathering it through a hose. it will be installed at the back of the vehicle and they will ask the car owners to start the car.
â—† The merits of overseas development base, sending the ‘voices’ of German people to Japan
Next to the emissions testing area is a room with 6 alignment bases. In these areas, the staff in charge of vehicle dynamics change dampers and tires, and make vehicle adjustments. There are five engineers working in those areas and they can install or change engines. There are around 10 cars from European automakers and other Japanese automakers in the development base. As they are conducting tests for each car, Fujiwara said, “We have been deciding how we can enhance the strong point of our current models and what we should do with our position hereafter.”
Moreover, there was an RX-8 model in the same area and they use it for driving training. A driving expert from Japan would visit MRE twice a year and conduct a training at NÃ¼rburgring.
Further, they also have a newly-constructed Craftsmanship Evaluation Room built in the spring of last year. They can evaluate the visuals and material of its interior and exterior parts, interior lighting, operability in dark situation, and illumination, and its ceiling is also equipped with cloth material that does not reflect the fluorescent lights. Its settings are arranged similarly with the current environment of the headquarters, but the materials are all provided locally.
Fujiwara said, “In producing products that are similar with what we have in Japan, we had difficulties in choosing the materials for its lighting. We also asked for various samples of fabric from suppliers and thoroughly examined those materials. Maybe there are only few automakers in Europe who have this kind of room.” It’s a room where you can feel the keenness that only exists in Mazda that was assessed by arranging with settings that are similar with the headquarters as well as by exchanging opinions with the local staff.
Aside from that, MRE also gathers feedback from their customers as well as comparative evaluation from the local media and relay it to the headquarters. Fifty drivers will gather before the launching of new models, and they will conduct a two-hour test drive at the course. Local engineers who ride together with those drivers would hear out feedback from them. They certainly deliver “Europe’s voice” to Japan.