design philosophy

Human-centric approach lies at the heart of Mazda’s car development

Norihiro Tomita
General Manager, Vehicle Development Division.

A comfortable driving environment that enables a driver to accurately feel their car’s response and smoothly operate the car is essential to Mazda’s Jinba Ittai, oneness between man and car. To create and provide such a driving environment, Mazda has long been defining and evolving a “human-centric design" philosophy. We are talking about making cars that adapt to the driver, not forcing the driver to adapt to their car. And Mazda is the only car company embracing a truly “human-centric” approach.
We sat down with Norihiro Tomita, General Manager of Mazda’s Vehicle Development Division, to learn about ideas and initiatives for developing cars the Mazda way.

  1. A new beginning: understanding proper driving posture

“A car is something you drive and enjoy. That lies at the heart of Mazda’s corporate culture, and that’s exactly how the idea of Jinba Ittai driving came up. Mazda has a long history of developing cars with an emphasis on driver’s senses”, says Tomita. But objectively speaking, it took Mazda some time to develop a “human-centric design" philosophy that is applied to the entire new-generation model line-up.
“You’re right, we’ve pursued refreshing, exhilarating driving but we didn’t rationalize what exactly makes a driver feel that way. So we conducted repeated assessments and tests. The results and learning’s enabled us to gain a systematic understanding of what makes a driver perceive refreshing, exhilarating driving.”

A new beginning: understanding proper driving posture

“What we learned was that a human body, in a relaxed posture, is less prone to fatigue and also more responsive when physically relaxed. That led us to take measurements, specifically joint angles and muscle conditions, of a person in a relaxed posture. We did the same by measuring different people’s range of view and movement of vision.

The measurements helped us theoretically understand all the conditions a driver needs for driving a car optimally.”Knowing what makes up an ideal driving state, made it fairly easy for Tomita and his team to identify issues. Seeing a technological roadmap to the optimal driving conditions marked a beginning of Mazda’s journey to human-centric car development.

  1. Cross functional collaboration enabled us to make a comfortable driving environment a reality.

Driving in a relaxed posture seems obvious enough, but Tomita soon faced a huge challenge.
“A place where the driver’s leg naturally rests, where the pedal should be, is where the front wheel house is. Shifting the front wheels more to the front affected the engine’s position, which impacted other units. In other words, simply changing the pedal position affected the entire cars structure.”

A human-centric car development quickly developed into a collaborative effort involving different organizations across Mazda, plus coordination and adjustments across related departments and divisions. Tomita and his team worked closely together with engineers in charge of engine, transmission, body and chassis to completely revisit the car’s structure and layout of each unit, and spent many days and nights thinking about a solution. It was like working on a highly complicated puzzle – pushing the front wheels forward, adjusting each unit in millimeters. After solving many puzzles, Tomita finally created an optimal pedal position. It was the moment when Mazda’s human-centric car development became a reality.

A human-centric design philosophy created further benefits.
“Pushing tires to the front created more space between the engine and where the front passenger's legs are, so we could mount a 4-2-1 exhaust system. Getting tires close to the four corners of a car’s body enhanced beauty of a car’s stance.”

Those achievements were the outcome of the engineer’s hard work – identifying issues by pursuing an ideal, and endless exploration of ideas for efficiently solving them.

Collaboration across the organizations to create a car housing a perfectly comfortable driving environment for driver.

  1. Applying human-centric design philosophy to all new-generation products.

Today, a human-centric design philosophy lies at the heart of Mazda’s car development Yet it’s easier said than done. How do Tomita and his team go about applying the same philosophy to cars of different sizes and body types?

“An environment that facilitates driving comes first and foremost. Our focus on creating the optimal driving environment dictates that every model gets design and equipment for that purpose. If you take a look at the Mazda2, the car gets a bottom-hinged accelerator pedal and a tilt & telescopic steering wheel adjustment mechanism. Normally, those features are only equipped in high grade models. The bottom-hinged accelerator pedal is standard in all Mazda’s new-generation models, including the Mazda2.”

Applying human-centric design philosophy to all new-generation products.1

Moving on to production, Tomita tells me that smart ideas are applied to production.“From a production point of view, the more models produced on the same line means less efficiency, but no one wants to lose efficiency. So we came up with an idea called ‘flexible production system’.”
It’s a system for a single production line to build multiple models by separating what can be changed for each model and what must not. “We define them as variable and fixed elements. If you know what needs to be fixed and what are the variable numbers, you can build more than one models. That’s how our production team works ”, says Tomita.

Applying human-centric design philosophy to all new-generation products.2

The success of the flexible production system met Mazda’s development approach, which led to application of the same design philosophy to different models.“Based on the solid basis, that is fixed factors , we make changes to variable factors where needed, so all the new-generation products since the CX-5 should feel similar when you sit behind the wheel. An accelerator pedal is placed in a natural position in the Mazda2, MX-5 and the CX-5.”
Making driving easier, the driver more confident and increase the enjoyment level became a critical element of Mazda uniqueness, achieved by its human-centric design philosophy.

That’s how the “Jinba Ittai” driving feel of Mazda models is created. Benchmarking against other car brand’s models is not a part of Mazda’s car development process-
“At the end of the day, it all boils down to human senses, because what we do is human-centric. We sway between theoretical numbers and actual human senses. You could say that pursuing an ideal is a never-ending journey.”

Tomita closed the interview with a face full of excitement and joy, topped with a hearty laugh.


  • Visibility developed at Mazda is based on extensive studies of driver’s physical characteristics.
  • For Mazda, ideal driving starts with an optimal driving position.
  • Achieving safe driving AND undistracted information control.