Mazda’s New Language of Motion

Generally speaking, when a vehicle manufacturer rolls out with a new concept car, it is predicated on an international auto show.

Generally speaking, when a vehicle manufacturer rolls out with a new concept car, it is predicated on an international auto show. As in, “Gee, there will be a lot of people going to Detroit/Frankfurt/Tokyo/Wherever, so if we can put out a concept vehicle, we will be able to gauge reaction to the car.”

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Mazda officially revealed its Shinari concept car today. Earlier this week, in Milan, when it was unveiled to the press (it was supposed to have been kept publically under wraps until today, but some outlets broke the embargo), Mazda officials weren’t sure whether the car was going to be displayed at the Paris Motor Show, which kicks off October 2; there was some thought that it wouldn’t and that the focus of the Mazda stand would be on production vehicles.

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Although the Shinari is a car, it is actually an example of something bigger than just a given vehicle. Mazda designers—working in Hiroshima, Yokohama, Irvine (California), and, Frankfurt—have been working under the direction of Ikuo Maeda, head of the design division, on formulating a new design language, or theme, for Mazda cars going forward.

In other words, the Shinari isn’t a one-off concept car per se. Rather, it is the first formal execution of the new vocabulary. The word, in Japanese, used to encompass it is Kodo, which stands for “the soul of motion.”

Explaining what they’re trying to do, Maeda said, “Our aim is to express movement with forceful vitality and speed as the design theme for Mazda’s upcoming models.”

The notion of motion is not new to Mazda design, as the previous theme, Nagare, also had movement as its basis. What is new with Kodo is that rather than the movement caused, say, by wind moving over sand or water, causing rippling, Kodo is more organic.

What’s more, whereas Nagare is manifest in what has happened (e.g., the shape of the sheet metal reflects what could have occurred if it was a fluid over which wind had passed, leaving the shapes behind), Kodo is more about potential, about what could happen, such that there is inherent energy.

The word shinari relates to the way that a piece of material like bamboo exists when it is under tension: It is fairly evident that it will snap back, releasing the kinetic energy, once the tension is removed.

So for a vehicle, like the Shinari, the idea is that even when the vehicle is static the potential energy becomes visible in the tautness of the sheet metal.

The Shinari is not simply an exercise in shapes, however. It is a four-door, four-seat sport coupe, dimensionally larger than any actual car that Mazda builds, yet still sufficiently realistic such that even though it is likely never to see production as is, it is still a vehicle from which many elements can be directly borrowed for deployment in production vehicles. It isn’t purely fanciful, nor is it purely factual. It is an intersection of what could be and what will be. Some people may find that the Shinari doesn’t go “far enough,” that it doesn’t necessarily push the boundaries of concept car design, but that hardly seems to be the point of the exercise. Rather, it is seemingly more about creating a unified array of approaches toward vehicle design that will be unmistakably Mazda.

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Maeda, who assumed his position in April, 2009, and whose nickname is “Speedy,” is working quickly to establish his imprint on the design of future Mazda vehicles through Kodo. As other brands seem to be creating a familial look through the shape of the grille alone, for example (and, yes, they paid example to the shape of the grille on the Shinari), here it is not about a word alone, but a carefully crafted prose poem.

(A more comprehensive look at Kodo and Shinari will appear in the November/December issue of Automotive Design & Production.)