Mazda has appointed Kevin Rice as its new European design director to replace the retiring Peter Birtwhistle.
Rice joins at a key time for Mazda, which is replacing its model range at a rate of knots. It will show the new 2 supermini at the Paris motor show in October 2014, following the 3 mid-sized hatch and 6 family car which are both less than two years old.
And two crucial models are about to join the fray: the MX-5 sports car will be unveiled in September 2014 and the new junior SUV, likely to be badged CX-3, will be shown later this autumn.
For such a small company, the pace of change is admirably strong.
Mazda design: Kevin Rice’s mission
Rice, 50 years old and a Briton like Birtwhistle, will not be able to influence any of the imminent newcomers, but will be focusing on the next generation of Mazdas for Europe.
He worked at Mazda for five years in the 1990s before working for various other European car makers, including BMW.
Rice returned to Mazda’s European R&D centre in Oberusel, Germany, in autumn 2013 where he was lined up for the top job. He takes over on 1 September 2014.
His job will be a challenging one: Mazda builds world cars and is unable to engineer in much regional variation. But the European influence in cars such as the 3 and 6 feels strong – CAR’s view is that Mazda cleverly blends the best of global styling in its cars, where Japanese rivals’ designs are hemmed in by their Asian roots.
Peter Birtwhistle retiring
Birtwhistle retires after a 26-year stint with Mazda. He will be remembered for his role in the company’s Kodo design language, made real in the shapely 6.
‘Mazda has a long tradition in Europe for its stand-out designs and is considered the most European of Japanese brands,’ said Mazda Motor Europe president and CEO Jeff Guyton. ‘This is in large part thanks to Peter’s passion for design and for cars.
‘Kevin will continue Peter’s work, giving Mazda the necessary continuity while at the same time representing a new generation of designers.’