Mazda's General Manager for Design Ikuo Maeda

2015 Tokyo Motor Show: “Infusing life into the subtraction of design…” An interview with Maeda, Mazda’s General Manager for Design

Mazda’s RX-Vision has conspicuously attracted the attention of the visitors at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. It is the concept car that foretells the revival of rotary sports cars, and it also simultaneously acts as the personification of the new trend of Mazda’s Soul of Motion Design.

The theme for the next generation is the “Subtraction of design,” according to the proponent of the Soul of Motion Design, General Manager for Design Ikuo Maeda. What does subtraction signify? Why subtraction? We asked General Manager for Design Ikuo Maeda about it.

—-: The subtraction has already started with the reduction of the line components in the CX-3, right? Furthermore, there are absolutely no character lines in the body side in the Roadster. Looking back at the Roadster after seeing the RX-Vision, it appears that the Roadster fulfills the role of the bridge which fits the “soul” of the next generation.

General Manager for Design Maeda (Referred to without titles afterwards): Indeed, it is.

—-: In short, the reduction of lines is the subtraction of design, right?

Maeda: That is also a part of it; and furthermore, we have subtracted the vertical motion rhythm in the RX-Vision. The Soul of Motion Design has so far configured the form through the rhythm of the up and down inflection; however, we will no longer be doing that. We have done it in such a way wherein you will feel the movement only through the sense of speed of the front and back direction.

—-: When you announced the Roadster, you mentioned that the subtraction of design is difficult.

Maeda: During that time I declared that “we will be doing subtraction from then on”; however, when we pushed through with it, there were things that were lost. Through the weakening of the character, the significance of the shape disappears. The thing that we wanted to express can no longer be seen. We tried to do subtraction to the utmost limit, but it was totally useless.

—-: What happened afterwards?

Maeda: The definition of the Soul of Motion Design is the expression of movement that resonates with a sense of life. The theme is to infuse life into shape; however, life disappears if you do subtraction too much. We felt the difficulty of subtraction as we experienced saying “Ah, it’s dead.” We absolutely had to draw out the light of life and the sense of liveliness. And then, conversely, we noticed that there are things that we should be adding in order to go about the subtraction of components. Thereupon, we went about adding the modification of the light.

—-: The modification of light refers to the thing that is expressed in the reflection of the body, right? It was quite difficult to see at the show venue, but I think that one characteristic is the depiction of the letter Z which was reflected on the side of the body.

Maeda: It is the expression of the sense of life through the reflection.

—-: If you are going to look at the revolving spot at the turn table, the reflection steadily changes dynamically. This was impressive.

Maeda: As for the light, it has an extremely sensitive shape. Speaking specifically, the shoulder of the body side is connected together from the front wheel to the rear wheel with a negative curve when viewed from above.

—-: The plan curve (The line of the body side seen from above) is a spindle-shaped convex curve which is in contrast with conventional wisdom; the RX-Vision was done in a concave curve for that reason.

Maeda: Moreover, the side sill is conversely connected to the shoulder with a convex curve. Under usual circumstances, it is a body configuration that is not done absolutely; however, we found out that an interesting effect comes out in the modification of the light by doing it.

—-: In the case of sports cars, I think that there are a lot of examples where another rear wheel is wrapped up in a spindle-shape and is joined together from the front wheel to the spindle-shape until the cabin…

Maeda: That is what is called a cork bottle shape, and no matter how simply it is done, it turns into a shape where you will say “I saw that somewhere.” Now, if you are not going for that kind of surprise…, people will probably still be surprised if you add the components; however, it is difficult to do that with subtraction. I was terribly troubled by it, but I think that if we made it with an ordinary concept, then the surprise will probably not come about. I requested the modeller to “Please make it only with the things that should not be done.”

—-: That’s quite bold (laughs).

Maeda: As for the negative plan curve, usually it is something that is absolutely not done. Because the body looks thin, right? Thereupon, there was a response that it would likely work out when we tried the configuration of the top of the plan curve as negative and the bottom as positive, and the appearance of reflection of the letter Z while showing the sense of mass in the cross-section of the body.

—-: Did it proceed smoothly from that point on?

Maeda: Not really; I made a number of clay models using the same theme and lined them up. I drew sketches but all of them ended up the same however. I consumed a considerable amount of time in there. Only a Japanese modeller can make so many modifications to a three-dimensional reflection and control it delicately. I think that that delicate sensibility is connected with Japan’s aesthetic sense.

—-: By the way, the proportion of its nose is considerably long, right? It seems that there are also questions as to why it has such a long hood despite the fact that its compact rotary engine is one of its features.

Maeda: Initially, it was 100mm shorter than this from the front wheels until the A-pillar. We started the design with that packaging, but we extended it along the way. That is also one of its surprises, where people will ask “isn’t it too long?” Because it would not be interesting just by putting it together in a well-balanced manner.

—-:There are some people who are thinking that the next rotary engine will have four rotors…

Maeda: We also aim to have such a discussion.

—-: From a purely design perspective, what necessitated the extension of the hood to 100mm? Did you want to show a long-nosed proportion? Or maybe you wanted such a length in order to show a dramatic reflection of the body side?

Maeda: It is actually both; however, I wanted to emphasize the front and back direction of the movement since the movement of the form will be reduced when the subtraction is done to the fullest. It becomes static when the cabin is positioned in a well-balanced place. That is why that is also a place that is included within the difficulty of subtraction. By adding the modification of light and the emphasis of the front and back movement, a movement that has a sense of life is being expressed while reducing the components.

(Translated by: Michael Sabaldan)