For many years, exquisite car design was owned by the Italians: the smooth, sensuous lines of their fast and furious sports cars set the European standard. More recently, the German designers, with their luxurious cabins and clean and clinical styles of brands like Mercedes and BMW have dominated executive car parks.
Now when it comes to the look of cars there is an unmistakable new influence, with the global design gaze shifting towards the East. The result? A rejection of the traditional sharp lines and boxy shapes in favour of more smooth-flowing, sculpted and contoured body surfaces. These new lines use shadow and light to give the impression that the car is moving – even when it’s stationary.
This shift has been driven by Ikuo Maeda, the legendary global design chief of Japanese manufacturer Mazda, who has spent much of his working life cultivating the brand’s overarching design philosophy – known as Kodo: Soul of Motion – that now flows across their entire model range.
At its heart, the ethos is about breathing life and energy into a car, a philosophy that Maeda says is woven into his country’s identity and culture. “In Japan, we feel that craftspeople inject life into what they make, so objects that receive the love and caring attention of these craftspeople have a vital force; a soul,” he explains. “Kodo design is about creating cars that embody that dynamic beauty of life.
“When you cook Japanese food, the way you cook dashi [a Japanese cooking stock] will have a significant influence on how the food tastes. Making the perfect dashi is a good analogy for what we’re doing to create the ultimate form of beauty.’’
And the design world is starting to take notice, with Mazda projects racking up plenty of accolades for their new look – including winning Most Beautiful Concept Car for the Mazda RX-Vision at last year’s illustrious Festival Automobile International.
The Complete Package
Kodo design extends beyond the automobile; Maeda’s team collaborated with Shiseido to create SOUL of MOTION perfume, packaged in a bottle inspired by Mazda’s aesthetic.