Despite being a mainstream brand, Mazda still beats metal by hand to design new cars.
We've spoken at length about how Mazda is dominating car design right now. But did you know the automaker still hand-beats metal when designing its cars? It may seem like an archaic technique and one only used by small niche automakers like Morgan, but it's something Mazda does too.
The difference is that Mazda uses hand-hewn metalwork early in the design process rather than as a means of production as was the case decades ago when metal was beaten over a wooden frame.
One man is responsible for the manipulation of metal: Yutaka Kawano. At the age of 60, he's been working with Mazda for more than 40 years in various areas, from training for the National Skills Competition to working in body production and finally settling in Mazda's design division. But what exactly does an artisan like Kawano, an officially declared Takumi Master, do for Mazda?
When Mazda designers have a concept in mind, they present Kawano with the clay model and design sketches. He then transforms those designs into lifelike models using metal, resin, and leather. Remember how we spoke about the way Mazda designs its bodywork to play with light? Well, it's Kawano's responsibility to produce models that accurately portray how those designs work.
He even works with young designers that rely on digitalization, helping them understand what he does and how their design decisions influence the final product.
"I'm working with them directly," he says, "I give them advice and learn from them. We're working and growing together, doing real work."
Working from Mazda's Design Modelling Studio, Kawano uses classic tools like hammers, wooden mallets, and sheet metal scissors to form metal sheets into individual objects that inspire concepts and production models or sometimes into shapes that will later form part of these vehicles. One such example is the chrome and metal interior trim in cars like the Mazda 3, which was directly inspired by the panels of metal Kawano himself beat into shape.
He even uses custom-made equipment and tools, bespoke leather wrist guards, and cracks in the base of a tree trunk outside to shape copperware.
It's yet another human element of Mazda's design process, much like the heartbeat turn signals on the CX-30 and one that falls under the banner of monotsukuri - a single term encompassing Mazda's product planning, design, development, and production.
Best of all, it shows how digitalization and old-school craftsmanship can co-exist in modern vehicle design and how Mazda retains its Japanese heritage while still moving forward.
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