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Japan:Senku concept hints at Mazda's design direction

Senku concept hints at Mazda's design direction

By Mark Rechtin/James B Treece contributed to this report
Automotive News

John McCormick / Special to The Detroit News

John McCormick / Special to The Detroit News

TOKYO -- Mazda Motor Corp. showed a concept vehicle that hints at design ideas for a decade from now.

The Senku concept, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show, likely will not carry the design of the next generation of Mazda vehicles but instead the generation after that, executives said.

Moray Callum, Mazda's design chief, said the Senku's "very strong shoulder," which emphasizes the front wheel arch, likely will make its way into Mazda design.

"We don't know if it's the next generation," Callum said. "We asked designers to stretch and say where we would be in 10 years' time. I'd be very happy if this is where we were in 10 years."

Mazda's designers were instructed to find "new graphic expressions and new proportions" with the Senku, said Norihito Iwao, lead designer of Mazda's advance design group.

Mazda Motor CEO Hisakazu Imaki said he and Executive Vice President John Parker gave designers "strict instructions for instilling "zoom-zoom" into the design." However, "we gave them no details," Imaki said.

Added Parker: "Many designs of concept vehicles are close to production. We decided it was time to give our designers some freedom of expression to stay on the leading edge."

Mazda's Japanese studios in Hiroshima and Yokohama, as well as its California and Germany studios, are competing to create Mazda's new design language. The German studio created a small car for the Frankfurt auto show in September. The Senku came from Yokohama. The California studio will create a concept vehicle for the Detroit show in January.

The Senku's body-side sheet metal has the optical illusion of "flame surfacing" similar to the BMW Z4. But the apparent concave-to-convex sheet metal bending is actually two convex surfaces joined at a crease. By doing that, the car's rocker panel area swoops under the car more dramatically, Iwao said.

"We needed tension in the side panel. The engine is behind the front axle, so we needed to show the energy coming out of the car. That's why there is no negative (concave) panel," Iwao said.

Jim Hall, an analyst with AutoPacific in Southfield, Mich., said here that there are two ways to design a design-theme car. One is as a sheet metal sketch, which bears no resemblance to anything in the lineup. The other is as a theme car, which shows a deliberate and obvious direction toward an existing vehicle. The Senku is the former, Hall said.

"The Senku has a lot of ways it can be interpreted," Hall said. "It gives latitude for designers in the future, but how much of this ends up in actual cars depends on the vehicle type and positioning. We'll probably just see a part here and a part there."

Pictures from Autoindex.org

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