274 rarely seen parts enhance the pleasure of driving a Mazda
This series gives a behind-the-scenes look at development of the all-new Mazda CX-5 and introduces designers and engineers who played a key role in the process. In Part 6 we meet the “sub-designers” who worked to make rarely seen areas like door openings and the insides of wheel wells, more beautiful. With the all-new CX-5, the team reviewed an astonishing 698 parts. Read on to find out what it means to work across departments and question conventional methods.
Creating beauty by eliminating things
Some operations inside Mazda are referred to as sub-design. These involve building beauty into spots that mostly go unseen by customers, including fine details such as the openings for the doors and lift gate, the inside of the wheel wells and the fit and finish of the interior. Though referred to as “sub”-design, it is an extremely important part of the process.
“Good sub-design has nothing to do with making the car look cool. It’s about creating beauty by eliminating things,” said Yasunori Iguchi, an exterior designer who led sub-design for the all-new CX-5.
Yasunori Iguchi, Exterior Designer
The process previously called for the designers to check the layout data once they were almost finalized, but that left little leeway for making improvements to those seldom noticed locations. To remedy this, Iguchi was assigned full-time to the sub-design of the new CX-5 from the earliest stages of development.
Eliminate visual noise to heighten the appeal of the design
When he began working with the engineers in the early stages of production, Iguchi established five perspectives to serve as guides to what can be considered beautiful. He did this because he could not expect engineers to have the same level of aesthetic sensitivity as a designer.
The five perspectives for sub-design
All are based on the principle of simplifying as much as possible, or, as Iguchi puts it, “eradicating the unnecessary.” It’s a process of eliminating visual noise to heighten the appeal of the exterior and interior design.
“Mazda’s designs are acclaimed, and all the engineers were as eager as the designers to improve the appearance of functional parts and create the most beautiful overall design possible,” said Shinji Fujikawa, a member of the body CAD group.
Shinji Fujikawa, Body CAD Group
Working across departments to question conventional methods
A task team comprising members from planning, craftsmanship development, production technology and design was formed, and they worked across departments to question the way things had always been done. The task team carefully examined how to improve every element, from the appearance of bolts to labeling.
For example, the hinges, dampers and other functional parts above the lift gate opening are visible when loading and unloading cargo. So the shape of the pressed metal there is likely to be complicated. The team patiently adjusted the shape of each part in 0.1-mm increments for a simpler surface and smoother lines. This not only resulted in a cleaner look but also had a variety of other synergistic effects, including simplifying the assembly process.
Upper left corner of the rear lift-gate opening
“It’s not as though we engineers don’t care about how things look,” said Yasuhito Sakamoto of the body planning group. “But when we used a 3-D printer to create prototypes from data made with our conventional methods and looked at them based on Iguchi’s five perspectives, we could see that, unfortunately, the lines were indeed wavy.”
“We can’t acquire the aesthetic sense of a designer in a short time, so we created numerous prototypes in order to understand the points the designers were raising and gradually refined our skills.”
Yasuhito Sakamoto, from Body Planning Group and (right) the project team at work
“Iguchi’s goal is to raise engineers’ awareness of design.” Fujikawa said, “I want to continue tapping into designers’ sensibilities and apply them to building cars in the future.”
An interior that provides comfort as well as beauty
The team worked to create a visually clean and pleasing interior too. Hiding the parts that secure the headliner while eliminating unevenness in the ceiling’s surface creates a clean look that gives people in the back seat a sense of roominess.
“A feeling of roominess is more important to people than actual dimensions,” said interior designer Yukinori Monden. “Eliminating the visual noise of uneven surfaces not only creates a more beautiful finish but also provides occupants with greater comfort. These efforts pay off in a number of ways.”
Yukinori Monden, interior designer
Kosuke Sakaguchi, the interior planning engineer responsible for the trim, paid particular attention to achieving a high-quality look in the cargo area, which customers seldom notice. He called for plush non-woven material to be attached to the walls as well as the floor, unifying the look and feel and giving the cargo area a higher-quality ambience.
Kosuke Sakaguchi, from Body Planning Group and (right) the cargo area of the all-new CX-5
He also focused on boosting cabin quietness by minimizing the space between the backs of the rear seats and the cargo area when the seats are reclined. “If we’re going to make things look better, I want to improve their function and performance as well,” Sakaguchi said.
The meticulous sub-design process for the all-new CX-5 looked at 698 different areas and led to improvements in 225 exterior and 49 interior parts.
While many of these improvements will go unseen, their contribution to the appeal of Mazda cars will be apparent to customers as they enjoy their cars, whether washing them or changing a tire.
The next installment, which focuses on the dynamic performance of the all-new CX-5, is the last in the series.