DETROIT - Moray Callum has a challenge.
His task is to redesign one of the one of the icons of the modern automotive world – the Mazda MX-5 sports car.
The existing model is still selling in record numbers a dozen years after it was first launched, its design steeped in the classic style of the great British 2-seater sports cars of days gone by – the MGB or Triumph TR6.
The new MX-5 is due around 2005 and Scotsman Moray is the man charged with the responsibility of coming up with the new ‘face’ of Mazda at the Japanese company’s headquarters in Hiroshima.
"The MX-5 is a big challenge, and a great challenge," he said. "It is a car on which everyone has an opinion and so whatever you do you are never going to please everyone.
"But it has been an icon for Mazda and so we have to stay true to the design concept – it is not going to be a different product."
It will be just a little bigger, though, to accommodate new safety and technical features to bring the MX-5 bang up to the 21st Century.
The sports car was perhaps the last great design to come out of Mazda before the Japanese economic bubble burst and it is only the last three years since Ford took a 33 per cent stake in the company that Mazda has found its identity again.
"I think we were aware that the company had lost its way for a while in design terms, but we are definitely back on track. We have the new Mazda6 and Mazda2 while the RX-8 is a real statement of intent," said Moray.
The RX-8, seen in full production form for the first time at this week’s Detroit Auto Show, will be introduced in the UK this summer.
"We are looking at how we can deliver products to customers in a way they have not seen before," he added. "Mazda needs to compete in the mainstream and in niche segments, it is a company which has always been able to bring something unique into the market – such as the original RX-7 and the MX-5."
This philosophy was evident in Mazda’s Detroit show concept car, the Washu. Although this will not be built in its current form, it is a showcase for design and technology for future Mazda’s.
Moray said: "If you take the doors, this is an example of how we can present things to customers in a unique way. Since Ford invested in the company we have been able to accelerate the commitment to design and we have already got it back to a point where people recognize Mazda once again."
While sharing vehicle underpinnings with Ford have led to economies, Moray does not believe this has restricted design. "If anything it encourages you to be more adventurous because you want to make sure your car looks different to a Ford.
"But it is not just about the exterior look, interiors design has become increasingly important, particularly with the amount of equipment and technology which now has to be packed inside a car – this is something the Japanese are very good at.
"On a global scale interior variations are coming together. More things are now acceptable to all the markets so this will ultimately make the packaging easier."Published 10 January 2003