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Zoom-zoom to zen

Mazda's "zoom-zoom" catchcry may be seen by some as childish and overdone.

Yet, says Mazda's global design director Laurens Van Den Acker, the slogan immediately crystallised the company and illuminated its future path.

The Japan-based stylist this week opened his sketch pad in Melbourne to an intimate guest list and started by terming "zoom-zoom" as "Mazda's moment of truth".

Mr Van Den Acker says Mazda had to do more to create brand awareness before it became indistinguishable against similar design trends being adopted by — among others — Opel, Kia and Hyundai.

"I thought it was time to move on," he says.

"We needed some freshness yet didn't want to scare away customers. And we had to appeal to new customers as much as retain existing customers who were moving up to a new Mazda."

Part of the result of a clean-sheet approach is seen in the current Mazda6 and, from mid-2009, the next Mazda3.

But only part. The new design philosophy is called Nagare, a Japanese word indicating "flow" and, yes, one that could also seen to be childish and overdone. But that's part of Mazda's new definition.

"The Mazda3 was developed at the same time — 2006 to mid 2007 — as the first theories of Nagare were being developed," he says.

"We didn't know if Nagare would work even though we recognised that it had potential."

Taking the guest through the 2009 Mazda3 design by way of his drawing pen, Mr Van Den Acker shows a new grille — the "face" — that moves away from the current Mazda3's "traditional and tired graphic".

"In profile, the current Mazda3 is static. We wanted to make it more dynamic.

"So we start by adding RX-8 fenders," as he draws in the bold arcs over the front wheels, "and then sharper the rear, swoop up a line," drawing an arc through the rear door "to create a coupe look."

"The rear is still one of the most important parts of the car. We shouldn't walk away from that."

Mr Van Den Acker says the Mazda6 has been changed to reflect its mature appeal in the market. The Mazda3 now (for 2009) has been changed to attract a younger market.

He admits that when it comes to the cabin, "a lot of our rivals are running away from us".

"So we need some new features here, creating zones and making it a place for the customer who loves to drive.

"These customers aren't afraid of technology so we use technology in the dash.

"Some of our competitors have simplified the dashboard to the level of a (kitchen) appliance."

Above all, Mr Van Den Acker admits to falling for beauty.

"Beauty should rise above a vehicle's functionality to avoid being too German," he says.

"Styling is what sells the car. A beautiful car is one that people desire."

He says that Mazda was fortunate that it had a short history.

"We have nothing to look back to. We aren't burdened by 100 years of careful grille management so we are always looking forward.

"That's not the case in a car company that has a long history because you are always presented with opportunities to look back, to reflect, on previous design themes.

"At Ford (one of his previous employers), we used to look back a lot." The audience laughs.

No humour, however, in crash avoidance.

All safety authorities strive for the day when car collision and accident injuries and fatalities are abolished through sophisticated car-to-car communication.

For another reason, Mr Van Den Acker awaits the day with enthusiasm.

“I can't wait for the day cars communicate and we don't need all this stuff (protection for occupants and pedestrians)," he says.

"Imagine the weight and fuel efficiencies of that! Imagine if cars don't crash — our design future would be more exciting."

The future will also include new materials and here he looks at BMW's concept Gina that uses a textile skin that allows the body surfaces to move.

"The characteristics can change according to factors including speed and other specific situations," he says of Gina which has features including a spoiler that rises from the tail and changes shape on instruction from electronics that measures airflow.

Mr Van Den Acker moves on to show exciting future Mazda models based on the Nagare theme. I'd like to tell you but I promised Mazda I wouldn't.


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