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2009 Mazda3 – designing ideas

The man behind the current range of Mazda cars is young, Dutch, obviously talented and very sure about where the Japanese carmaker is headed.
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- David Twomey

Laurens van den Acker has also given a us a close-up look at the 2009 Mazda3 in the flesh and an insight into his thinking on why this very successful model is developing a look, almost, all its own.
As part of the event Mazda Australia showed the 2009 Mazda3 sedan and hatch side-by-side for the first time anywhere in the world. Previously the sedan had been shown in Europe and the hatch in the US.

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Mazda Australia, on something of a roll at the moment despite the global doom and gloom, brought Mr van den Acker to Australia for a Design Forum, staged at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, which was presented to the assembled horde of Australian automotive media and a select group of dealers.

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He’s a former employee of Audi, Volvo and Ford, and the current General Manager of Design at Mazda who has led the company into concept cars such as the Nagare, from which has flowed Mazda's current design strategy.

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Mr van den Acker wanted his audience to interact with him and one of the first questions raised was the nexus between the front of the latest ‘3’ and the recent lineage of Peugeots.

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His answer, well the ‘3’ was well under way in design 12 months before the release of the current 308 and even the 207.

He also outlined sound design reasons for concentrating the grille below the bumper, which reduces drag over the body and puts high-pressure air in front of the engine-cooling intake.

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The result is that any similarities between the Peugeot and the Mazda3 are just the result of both applying good design principles.

With his pen flashing and a sketch pad in front of him Mr van den Acker highlighted how the design of the new Mazda3 had developed.

He said Mazda had been locked into a “tired, traditional graphic” for its frontal treatment and cited similar examples from Hyundai, Kia and even Opel as examples.

In fact he showed a side-by-side graphic of the current Mazda3 frontal treatment and a press shot of the 2010 Opel Astra and said the similarities were “disturbing”.

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Developing his own style of design, with influences from natural elements, he has now moved Mazda away from the previous small grille for the Mazda2, medium grille for the Mazda3 and large grille for the Mazda6 to a new concept that breaks the context between the car size and its frontal appearance.

He said the Mazda3 was now the “cheeky younger brother” of its more “staid” older sibling the Mazda6.
Mr van den Acker told those present that car companies went through three stages of development, if they were to avoid obsolescence in design.

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The initial stage, he said, involved the company “fluffing around”, trying to find a look that embodied the image it wanted for the brand, sometimes taking backward steps or sidesteps. He said, some companies never get beyond that stage.

In the second stage, the look fermented and evolved over time and the brand image improved as the style found its footing.

Companies such as Mazda were in the third mature stage, where the family look was established.

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However, unlike companies such as BMW, Mazda didn't have an especially long-standing corporate look."We don't have a lot of history," he admitted but also acknowledged; "we're not burdened by a hundred years of grille management."

What was critical was that companies in the third stage revitalize themselves if they were to avoid being obsolete, and he cited the often criticised ‘Bangle’ period of design as BMW as accompany revitalizing itself, without having any serious impact on its sales.

Mr van den Acker said that at Mazda he was trying to capture a ‘new aesthetic’, which he wanted the company to own.
He indicated that in the future the company would be striving for new concepts that would allow it to maintain its evolving look, while packaging cars in new ways.

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He also said he was looking forward to the day when cars would ‘talk’ to each other, allowing a level of active safety that would make a lot of the passive safety equipment in today’s cars unnecessary.