THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE MX-5 INTERVIEW
  • Masashi Nakayama Next MX-5 Chief Designer
  • Shinichi Yasui Production Planning Dept., Production Engineering Division
  • Yukio Nakamura Product Planning Dept Product Division
  • Tetsuo Fujitomi Powertrain Planning Dept
  • Hitoshi Takamatsy Deputy Program Managertte
  • Nobuhiro Yamamoto Program Manager

“The new Mazda MX-5 must be light-weight at all costs”
“The design of the new Mazda MX-5 must look gorgeous in a scene with the setting sun”

Shinichi Yasui
Production Planning Dept., Production Engineering Division

During the preliminary development stages of the new Mazda MX-5, a single man stood up to prioritize the ambitions of the key participants, not only limited to engineers and designers, in the development of the car. His name is Shinichi Yasui, a member of the Production Planning Dept., Production Engineering Division.. Though not very well-known, even among avid vehicle enthusiasts, his department handles all the preparations needed in producing new cars in the factory.
“Our department is like a nightmare for the designers and development engineers. Since cars are industrial products, production requirements such as cost, technology, etc. must be fulfilled. Management of these aspects is the integral part of my job. Therefore, it is my duty, most of the time, to give the no-go on the realization of ideas illustrated by our engineers and designers.”

I approached the development team to submit all their ideas with the promise of creating a car following their requests.

Yasui, since his arrival at Mazda, has been active in the development of industrial technology. A master of in-factory car manufacturing, Yasui has contributed to the creation of numerous technologies capable of achieving high quality products. On the other hand, it was also his duty to announce, to engineers and designers, that their ideas could not be mass produced and that they must revise their design. As fate would have it, Yasui is now a supervisor of the production process for the new Mazda MX-5.
For Yasui, the Mazda MX-5 was the first sports car he was responsible of producing. Considering the necessities in creating the Mazda MX-5, Yasui repeatedly asked himself what components were vital in materializing the ideal sports car.
“I thought, I’ve got to change something here. If not, we’ll never make this car. Or whatever we make, it won’t be an MX-5.”
“That was my conclusion.” Yasui says. “Up to that point, I had always taken pride in my work and felt like I had done a good job, but in creating the Mazda MX-5, this car that is so anticipated by Mazda fans, I came to question what I could do to create the car that would meet their expectations, and realized I would have to be proactively involved in the entire production process.”
“In doing so, I came to think that it is necessary to have a common vision on how the new Mazda MX-5 should be created, and share that vision between our engineers and designers. Observing established procedures, though, I was totally aware that this kind of vision could not be shared unless acted upon. So I took the first step and approached the development team to have them submit all their ideas with the promise of creating a car following their requests.”

By driving myself into a seemingly impossible situation, I was more willing to take on the challenge of creating the new Mazda MX-5

Yasui’s efforts seemed a hopeless challenge. Once visions are accepted, actions to realize these goals must be taken, and the visions that had been harvested from the development team were clearly not something that could be materialized within a limited time span, especially on the production shop floor where efficiency is the key requirement.
“It was as though I had taken on a task that was well over my head, but by driving myself into a seemingly impossible situation, I was more willing to take on the challenge of creating the new Mazda MX-5. And it gradually became clear to me, especially through the passionate ideas contributed by the team, that my ideals were not just dreams.
I became more aware that it was our duty to deliver the perfect light-weight and beautifully crafted Mazda MX-5 that the team had envisioned, to our customers.”
In a time where product manufacturing is divided based on roles, it is commonsensical that a car can be created by simply following blueprints for each automobile part, even if car performance and design aspects are ignored.

I could counter-propose the weight reduction of a different component if weight reduction of a specific component was impossible

Yasui’s intention was to exceed these generalizations. By doing so, his responsibilities had increased, but through his accumulated experience as a master manufacturer, he was certain he would succeed. This was also a challenge because what he had envisioned was an unconventional method in vehicle production.
“Production technologies evolve by the day, but generally, the development engineers are not familiar with such information, methods, etc. So I tasked myself in familiarizing these aspects with the engineers’ ideas on the new Mazda MX-5, not only based on numbers and blueprints, but through hearing their detailed motives with questions on why they believed their output was to turn out how they imagined it should be.
By doing so, my approach, such as providing technical information and on what challenges we will face, would vary. For example, I could counter-propose the weight reduction of a different component if weight reduction of a specific component was impossible. Furthermore, I had become capable of proposing unconventional methods myself, such as shedding weight from the overhang portion rather than the center area of the main body.
The same applies in terms of design. You start thinking what you can do in the production stage to manage space for the smallest details, especially when you’ve been exposed to the passionate requests of the designers.”

I wanted the factory managers to be aware that this was the car we wanted to deliver to the world

Surprisingly, Yasui accepted nearly all of the requests from the development engineers and designers. When production began, he even welcomed the department managers of the factory where staff work first hand in creating the car.
“I wanted the factory managers, who each oversee approximately 20 staff in the production line, to see and be familiar with the design of the new Mazda MX-5 and wanted them to be aware that this was the car we wanted to deliver to the world. Normally, during the development stage, this is uncommon, but I had firm belief that in creating the real Mazda MX-5 as a team, this was the best thing to do.
I might be a little hasty, but I can’t wait to see the expressions on peoples’ faces driving the new Mazda MX-5. I want to see if they are happy and smiling. I’ve been in automobile production engineering for over 20 years, but this is the first time I’ve had such a strong feeling of attachment to any car. But in the end, it is not the car I am waiting to see, but the smiles on the drivers’ faces. I think this is such a great car that even as you walk away after your drive, without even thinking about it, you’re going to turn back around to look at it one more time. Yeah, this is the car we all pulled together to make. This is the MX-5!”