Related: Automotive Design
“Initially, the stamping engineers looked at us like we were crazy.”
That’s Ken Saward, design manager, Mazda North American Operations. He’s talking about the reaction that the stamping engineers at Mazda back at HQ in Hiroshima had when they were shown the design for the body panels for what has become the 2012 Mazda5.
“It is the first production car with Nagare styling,” Saward says.
For those of you keeping score, you may recall the last-time you saw full-blown Nagare, it was on the 2008 Furai concept car (autofieldguide.com/articles/040801.html). Then with the current-generation Mazda3, introduced in 2009, there were Nagare elements abounding (autofieldguide.com/articles/060904.html). But here it is, with the Mazda5, in all of its edgy, wind-swept glory. On a car that is, arguably, a people mover.
Yet that was a deliberate move, Saward points out. “If we did this on a sports car, it wouldn’t be noticed,” he says, adding, “The 5 was the perfect opportunity.” And he admits: “Mazda is the only company that would put this design on a people mover, a minivan. It is the kind of avant-garde design not seen on a Honda or Toyota.”
As suggested by the reference to stamping, the body panels are made of steel, not some material that might seem to be more pliable, like a polymer. “We would not be able to get this level of detail in a plastic panel,” Saward says, running his hand over the door.
One issue that had concerned the designers was how the shapes would appear in various colors; the car is offered in six: Metropolitan Gray, Clear Water Blue, Liquid Silver, Brilliant Black Charcoal, Copper Red, Crystal White Pearl. He explains that the development models are colored in silver, as it is a neutral color. But given the radical approach they were taking with the forms, they wanted to make sure that there would be no awful appearances predicated on the pallet. So they went to the stamping engineers and had them create actual panels that the design team then had painted so there would be physical evidence of how the vehicles would look. This is the first time, Saward says, that they’d gone this far.
Another concern was that these vehicles, when they are out of the carefully controlled environment of the design studio, have to exist in the real world, where things like door dings and dents occur all too frequently. How, they wondered, would the panels lend themselves to repair? So they had engineering make an assessment of the reparability. In some regards they were surprised to learn that the creases added a benefit in that they provide repair people with a form to follow, and actually simplified repair.
As had been learned from the Furai on the racetrack, the Nagare language is not all show and no go. That is, they found that it actually helped improve the aerodynamics of the vehicle, which has a 0.3 coefficient of drag. Specific examples: They determined in wind tunnel testing that there is a benefit in the shape around the A-pillars and mirrors, as well as on the trailing edge of the hood. What’s more, they discovered that the aero elements reduced wind noise in the vehicle, as well. Function follows form?
While Mazda designers and sculptors have the latest digital technologies at their disposal, the flowing lines on the Mazda5 were actually rendered by hand, not by computer-aided design program. Saward says that they had generated the shapes digitally but then determined that there was a “better sense of a human feel—better quality and more precision.”
The human touch matters.