Design Time: Next RX-7, New Datsuns and Pedestrian Crash Standards
Chief designers for Mazda and Nissan share some clues -- and frustrations.
Fuel efficiency and fancy touch-sensitive displays are great ways to market a new car, but let’s face it: If the body looks strange, awkward or nasty, it’s most likely doomed to fail. (Without gagging, look at the Buick Rendezvous or Subaru B9 Tribeca from 2007. Or the weirdo Murano CrossCabriolet that Nissan is trying to sell now.)
Conservative designs, no matter how often journalists poke fun at them, plain work. That’s why most of the best-selling cars, like the latest Toyota Camry, stick with flat-planed shapes and generic front and rear ends. The BMW 3 Series sedan, another continual success, is just a hair more exciting to watch than its predecessor. They neither excite nor offend.
Mazda and Nissan, as I’ve written here before, are taking chances by making truly fun-looking cars. Sometimes their wild risk rubs off on others; see the CrossCabriolet’s spawn, the Range Rover Evoque Convertible. Other times, they trudge alone in niche segments; see the Mazda 5. At the New York International Auto Show, I sat down with Shiro Nakamura, senior vice president of design for Nissan, and Derek Jenkins, design director for Mazda North America, to find out what they’re dreaming for the future.
For Mazda, one thing has to happen: the return of the RX-7, a sports car that looks just as hot and silky smooth today as when it disappeared from the U.S. 17 years ago. (Full disclosure: I’ve been fundamentally opposed to the RX-8, now discontinued, since it came out. The extra doors distort the coupe profile and in no way belong on a flagship sports car.) While Mazda engineers supposedly are working on the next rotary engine, Jenkins wouldn’t comment on a new RX-7. But in his words, I found hope.
“You can see what we’ve done so far with our concept vehicles like Shinari and Takeri (Editor's note: pictured above), kind of a general direction, and we’re moving toward this cab-rearward proportion with all of our products. You can even see it in the new CX-5; the cab is definitely pulled back. And that lends itself naturally to a sports car. So I think the push in that direction is a strong indication where you could imagine that going.
"But I think for Mazda it’s critical that they have a performance flagship. We have to have one in the future. From my point of view, stylistically, it’s the ultimate opportunity to express Mazda design and proto-language.”
At Nissan, the big news isn’t about the redesigned 2013 Altima, perennially one of the top-selling U.S. cars. It’s about Datsun, the low-cost Nissan sub-brand that will debut in India and Indonesia in 2014 -- and possibly to the U.S., if the cars could pass safety standards, Nakamura said. Here is his vision:
“We don’t want to make just a cheap car. For those customers, it’s not cheap, it’s an expensive car, comparing with their income. It’s an expensive thing. So we cannot give them a cheap-looking car because the price is cheap.
"But design-languagewise, it is not the same as the Nissan. Probably I want to put a little bit more functional feeling, show some robust quality, and because of the market we are going to is like India and Indonesia, the condition of the road is not necessarily very good, so they want to have higher ground clearance. We cannot make a car sitting high very sleek … but it’s not an SUV, it’s still a passenger car.”
In Europe, where cars are required to meet pedestrian impact standards, automotive design has changed dramatically – and not for the better, both Nakamura and Jenkins agree. Front ends are now more rounded and hoods flatter with fewer creases. Higher ride heights and raised belt lines are another result, which often come at the expense of added weight and less visibility --- all to meet the myriad of rules defining how a person should crush a hood or bounce off the fender.
“It’s a headache. For us probably the most difficult thing is the pedestrian [rules] -- so many restrictions for the shape of the front. You cannot do this. This is the hard point you have to keep. The angle of the front has to be 30 degrees … this is the criteria,” Nakamura said.
Jenkins had this to say:
“It’s horrible. It’s had a profound impact on just how cars are evolving. It’s probably one of the sides of [fuel-economy] standards and things like that. It’s probably the most significant legislation that’s impacted design directly. It’s not just design, it’s more systemic to make cars taller, make cars bigger, make cars heavier, redesign drivetrains. I’m not a fan of that legislation. I think it’s gone too far, personally, but not because I’m an opponent of safety for pedestrians … there are so many variables in a pedestrian-vehicle impact.”
In short, safety laws make it tough to sell beautiful things. But the most successful automotive designers, engineers and marketers will find ways around them, and hopefully retain personality and flavor in every new model. If that fails, we’ll all have to tighten our top buttons, join the rank-and-file Camry crowd and stop attending auto shows altogether.
Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving and riding in cars he doesn't own. He was raised in Volvos and has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He lives in Boston, is a member of the New England Motor Press Association, and has reported for The Boston Globe, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics and The Times of London.
The one thing they had going for them was the ability to build the Mazda6 in the U.S., but that's coming to an end.I would never buy a mazda unless it said "MADE IN JAPAN" under the hood. When I lived in Europe, they imported several models from the Michigan plant and they did not live up to the expected quality standards. They rusted out, seats jammed and had overall quality problems and were very poorly received. It was a fiasco and a blemish for mazda, which directly competes with Mercedes and BMW and is regarded very highly over there.
When I was buying my mazda, the stipulation was that it had to be made in Japan; I waited for almost three months until one made it all the way from there. Otherwise, I would not have bought one. There is no point in owning a Japanese car not made in Japan. That is ridiculous.
I sincerely doubt that the engine generates 310ft-lbs all the way to redline, since the horsepower peak is below 5250RPM.
At 14.0:1, SKYACTIV-D boasts the world's lowest compression ratio for a diesel engine. Offering a high amount of torque as well as cleaner combustion, the SKYACTIV-D 2.2-liter is 10 percent lighter than the current MZR-CD 2.2-liter diesel engine, reduces internal engine friction by 20 percent and improves fuel economy by 20 percent. This is achieved by using a new two-stage turbocharger, which delivers a smooth and steady response across the engine range (up to 5,200 rpm), as well as optimizing the engine's combustion timing. The low compression ratio also means the SKYACTIV-D diesel engine burns cleaner and discharges fewer nitrogen oxides to produce virtually no soot, thus requiring no additional NOx aftertreaments, which is typical of conventional diesel engines.http://www.mazdausamedia.com/content/mazda-takeri-concept-makes-north-american-debut-new-york
This will be one awesome engine to drive. It will be just like a V8, but without all the pollution and all the fuel consumption. Clean, quiet, economical, fast, powerful.
I agree with shrimp_roll, we may be getting closer to saying goodbye to Mazda. If they don't find someone to buy them or partner with them, I'm afraid they're toast. The one thing they had going for them was the ability to build the Mazda6 in the U.S., but that's coming to an end. Then Mazda will be stuck importing them from Japan at a time when the Yen-to-Dollar relationship isn't favorable. That's why other Japanese car makers are trying to shift more production to the U.S. to bolster profits. Mazda could be done in by the exchange rate.
I sincerely doubt that the engine generates 310ft-lbs all the way to redline, since the horsepower peak is below 5250RPM. That indicates to me that by 4,500 RPM the torque is already starting to drop. Since Power(RPM) = (Torque(RPM) x RPM)/5250 ( If Power is in HP, and Torque is in ft-lbs), If the torque really were flat to redline (i.e. Torque(RPM) is a constant and not a function of RPM), the HP over RPM graph would be a diagonal line right up to the redline. But if it peaks at 4,500 RPM, then the torque is dropping off pretty early. Remember, that LS1 had its HP peak pretty close to 6,000 RPM, and probably higher than that in the Corvette. That is what I am looking for. For an example of an engine that does have a nearly flat torque curve, look at the Honda F20C engine in the S2000. The HP peak is only 100 RPM below redline.
No thanks, diesels are great as commuter cars to get from point A to point B, but I want something funner. The Sky-D is achingly close, but no cigar. I am sticking with waiting for the FR-S. Or for the new rotary if something more concrete comes out about it soon.
Still, loosely my decision is the 7,500RPM, 200HP Scion FR-S, and I don't see anything with the SkyActiv-D to make me move from that decision.What about the flat torque curve? Basically the engine is designed such that you get maximum torque of 310 ft. lbs. from 2,000 RPM all the way to the redline: a 5.7L V8 LS1 engine has that kind of pull! I have 236 ft. lbs. at 1,750 and peaking at 3,100 RPM, and the pull is tremendous. Can you imagine what the 310 ft. lbs. will do for acceleration, and all the while getting anywhere from 45 - 55 MPG while having lower emissions than a PZ-EV vehicle like the Prius? It will be like having a V8, but without all the penalties! I just hope a sportwagon version with a manual transmission will be available; I would hate to have to go back to a sedan. mazda, are you reading this?
Anyway, back to the subject at hand: I cannot wait for 2014, so that I can ditch my German car.
Well, let's see if Skyactiv-D will satisfy my requirements....
Well, I am mildly impressed. 173hp at 4,500RPM and a 5,200RPM redline, that's not bad. I might even be able to kiss the redline in the first few gears, and with that sort of room I can drop a couple gears to really let it accelerate provided that they set up the gearbox right. Put it in a 2 door, and I am convinced. I just don't want a 4 door. To me, Mazda abandoning coupes is a major failure on their part.
Still, loosely my decision is the 7,500RPM, 200HP Scion FR-S, and I don't see anything with the SkyActiv-D to make me move from that decision. Now, if Mazda announces that the 16X (SkyActiv-R?) engine will be released in a new RX 2+2 soon, I will park my butt in my wife's Fit and suffer through it waiting for that. I will drive my un-air conditioned RX-7 here in Texas for a few years to wait for that.
Had an RX 7 1990 MODEL for 100K miles. The motor was a mystery to every dealer mechanic. They never told any owner NOT to use synthetic oil and 13 B engines used up the apex seals by 5K miles IF YOU DID.
Somewhat true. Rotary engines inject oil into their combustion chambers to lubricate the apex seals, which cannot be lubricated by conventional means. The issue with synthetics is that they don't burn well, and leave deposits in the engine. In particular, synthetics can lead to spark plug fouling, and I guess they can clog up the apex seal springs as well. Conventional oils on the other hand burn off neatly inside the combustion chamber leaving behind little residue.
There are a few brands of synthetic oil out there that are designed for rotary engines. They aren't cheap. One brand that comes to mind is a Japanese oil named Idemitsu that costs $8/quart. However, that is only really necessary for highly modified engines. In normal rotary engines, cheap conventional oil changed every 3,000 miles will work.
mazda once, mazda for life.
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