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Old 02-03-2005, 07:26   #1 (permalink)
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US:Mazda forms splinter groups to help develop future concepts, niche products

Mazda forms splinter groups to help develop future concepts, niche products

MARK RECHTIN | Automotive News

LOS ANGELES -- Mazda Motor Corp. has formed splinter departments at its three r&d centers to develop concept ideas and niche variations of production vehicles.

Mazda has established the Annual Advancement Activity programs, or AAA, at its r&d centers in Hiroshima, Japan; Irvine, Calif.; and Frankfurt. The first production vehicle from the program will arrive in the fall of 2006.

Each of the AAA groups has about a dozen representatives from design, engineering, marketing and finance.

"They are there to create innovative products that are not in our base cycle plan," says Steve Odell, Mazda Motor director in charge of global sales, marketing and customer service.

"It could be an all-new addition or a refinement of an existing vehicle. We could pick elements from a design study and use them for a mid-cycle change on a mainstream vehicle," Odell says. "These are not flights of fancy. These are deliverables."

Joe Bakaj, Mazda Motor senior managing executive officer for r&d, says, "At other companies, it's either design or engineering or product planning individually coming up with new ideas. With AAA, it's all those groups working together."

Every year the three studios brainstorm about 20 vehicle ideas and 12 production-possible concepts. Upper management pares that selection to the top three ideas. Each studio then rotates some of its staff to help complete the other studios' projects.

Vehicles such as the Verisa and MX-Crossport concept -- while not done by the AAA groups -- are examples of what Mazda executives see as possible. It also frees most of the r&d department to work harder on Mazda's core models, Bakaj says.

Mazda design boss Moray Callum says the AAA teams are finding a balance between futurism and reality.

"There's no point in doing a new concept if it doesn't look like a new concept," Callum says. "We were looking too far out at first. Now we're looking one generation beyond the current."
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