Design: Not such a drag after all

Mazda wants to improve aerodynamics without making its vehicles look boring. The firm’s designers say it takes a lot of teamwork with engineers to achieve this

The current Mazda6 is pretty good for a mainstream sedan with a Cd of 0.27. The Takeri concept from this year’s Tokyo show gives a good idea of how the replacement for the Mazda6 could look. It’s more radically styled but should be even more efficient. Nakayama wants to avoid the teardrop shape that gives vehicles such as the Toyota Prius their basic profile. “But we still want to perform well aerodynamically, so from the designer’s point of view this is where we struggle,” he says.

The focus is on the underbody and on making the rear wake as small as possible. This helps reduce turbulence and fuel consumption: “We’ll try to make the underbody flat and then slightly wedged at the rear – we want the airflow from the top and the bottom to meet at the same point,” Nakayama says.

More aerodynamically efficient sedans will cut Mazda’s fleet-average emissions but the pressures on its MX-5 roadster are a little different. Here, the balance is more towards just looking good and handling well.

But the next MX-5 will be the first to be launched for the iPhone generation: it’s hard to predict how such a basic sportscar will appeal to consumers more concerned about connectivity than double-wishbone suspension or rear-wheel drive.

Nakayama is involved in the programme and says that Mazda’s intention is certainly to make this MX-5 more appealing to young consumers. He accepts that the firm has its work cut out but takes a very pragmatic view of how the market will view the results.

“Within the young generation there are several types of people that are just not interested in cars at all, and it seems that lots of them are not interested in convertibles either,” Nakayama says. “And so we’ve had a lot of negative information.

“But we have several ideas to overcome all of that. Going back 22 years to when we made the first MX-5 we didn’t expect to sell so many of them. But we decided to go for it anyway, and we sold quite a lot. So we aren’t overly concerned. We think that, basically, if we make a vehicle that we want to ride in then it should sell.”

Design and technology as well as low CO2 emissions help to sell vehicles. Nakayama knows that he has to keep pushing Cd figures down but he doesn’t want to put his name to any boring vehicles – he still wants everything to look good too.

It comes back to teamwork: “The biggest challenge for designers is to maintain the aesthetics of the car – we don’t want it to look like an electrical appliance. We need a lot of cooperation from the engineers in order to achieve that,” he says.

tags: Dec 2011 Mazda Body-in-white Design Emissions