CAR interviews Mazda design chief Ikuo Maeda (2010)

Published: 02 September 2010

CAR has been out to Italy to see the world premier of the new Mazda Shinari concept car. It's the car that ushers in chief designer Ikuo Maeda's new Kodo design mantra, a sharper, faster stylistic treatment that will take over from Laurens van den Acker's Nagare vision. Maeda is the first Japanese design boss for a generation – it seems that Mazda has looked within after a series of European creative brains who each stayed for five years or less, arguably not long enough to see through any substantial aesthetic change. Maeda has worked at Mazda in design for 28 years and has committed to seeing out his career at the company.

We caught up with Maeda, 51, at the Shinari launch. He told us what Kodo means, why he approves of such grand gesture catchlines and explained why his father – who designed the original RX-7 in 1978 and became the first general manager of Mazda's fledgling design wing – inspired him to become an automotive designer.

Mazdas have been too unemotional for too long. If there’s one thing I want to become known for, it’s that I was the man who put the emotion back into Mazda. Our new theme – Kodo – is all about the soul of motion.

I’m in this for the long haul. Our previous design bosses were here for five years or less [Moray Callum 2001-2006, Laurens van den Acker 2006-2009]. That’s way too short and not long enough to change the look of a manufacturer’s range. My brief is for 10 years.

You will see our Kodo style but not until 2013 at the earliest. That’s how long it takes to change design today – we’re locked into long manufacturing processes and rhythms. Even what you might consider to be a minor facelift takes a couple of years from design freeze to showroom launch. But stick around, because change is coming and it will be worth it.

What do we mean when we say Kodo, or soul of motion? It’s about sharpness outside – there’s a tension in the surfaces that conveys speed – but inside it’s alluring and feels handcrafted. Some critics may not like these throwaway design labels, but it’s important internally to change my design team’s mindset.

I’m Mazda through and through. I’ve worked here for more than 25 years and my father Matasaburo Maeda was head of design in the 1970s. He designed the original RX-7 and I hope I will be able to design another sports car in my time here. I remember as a child he gave me a special Italian paper knife made from stainless steel. It was simple but twisted; beautiful and easy to use. I realised then that this was what design was all about.

We’re not totally ditching the Nagare design philosophy. But during the years when we tried to find beauty in nature, water and sand, I started to realise that we should express bolder, faster movement. Kodo is the next expression of that. I think of it as like the moment when a cheetah is about to pounce. That’s the visual energy I want our cars to embody.

I lived in California for four years and they called me Speedy. I used to race my MX-5 at weekends, hence the nickname. I still race my MX-5 now and have an old Lotus Elite too – the nickname’s stuck even back in Japan.

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet