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LA Auto Show – Mazda Nagare Concept

Acura (click here for our story) wasn’t the only manufacturer exploring themes for more than ten years out at the November 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, and not the only manufacturer who may have missed the mark.
Mazda developed the Nagare (pronounced na-ga-reh) concept to describe their future design themes, as an expression of where Mazda styling might be in 2020. Nagare is not only the name of this concept, but the name of Mazda’s future design language. The word, according to Mazda, is Japanese for flow and the “embodiment of motion.” Nagare is the first of several show properties being prepared for this year’s auto show season that will explore this new surface language, each of which will take a different interpretation. Mazda promises some of the concepts we see this year will be closer to production; this Nagare is a design rather than a production expression.


Form Follows Function? Not Here
Nagare has a sleek, aerodynamic shape, but one that is difficult to reconcile with the concept of an “urban cruiser” for 2020 or any other decade. For one, the extreme aero look didn’t leave much room for people, the most basic reason for having a vehicle. Placing the wheels at the extreme edges of every corner does promise strong and nimble handling and give the concept an aggressive stance. This concept stressed the soul of the sports car over the ability for people to ride in it. Though Mazda didn’t actually show the concept property with doors open, it is designed with two forward-hinged double-length doors that open like butterfly wings. Nice and pretty and a configuration found on lots of concepts, but one that is rarely used in production, and even then typically for low-volume sports cars.


The passenger compartment setup is perhaps the most odd element. Like in a single-seat racing car, the driver is centrally located. The tall, wide rear end was designed to carry three passengers. Looking at this concept, those three passengers better like each other a whole lot and the driver better like playing the chauffer role and not being included in the in-car conversation. While concepts should explore new solutions, a 1 + 3 seating arrangement seems quite silly for both driver and passenger. The Nagare concept is a good example of why form needs to follow function in automotive design. Cars are at their core functional objects. When they don’t function, beauty is lost.

Exercise in Surfacing
All these quibbles aside, the importance of the Nagare is in its surface language, which tries to embody the feeling of flow and of natural motion. According to Mazda’s new global design director Laurens van den Acker, who presented the Nagare to the media, the team began by studying motion and its effect on nature, including the effect of water on the ocean floor and of lava flowing down a mountain. While the Nagare features waves that are reminiscent of the ripples left on sand after the flow of water, they are an example of nature forced by design. The result seems arbitrary, while nature is not.

Among van den Acker’s remarks was that Nagare is a “concept of a concept” and not a form-follows-function approach, but a design first, engineering second approach. Unfortunately for Mazda, this isn’t the type of approach that leads to the most beautiful, satisfying, or even interesting automotive design. Cars can be rolling sculpture, but their first purpose is to move people. This concept, ultimately, is so far afield production and people needs that it is irrelevant.

Mazda fell into this trap once before with the last generation RX-7. RX-7 was an absolutely beautiful car (not to say the Nagare is) that noone could live with. RX-7 was a pure sports car priced north of $30K. It was a great handler, but its package was designed for a jockey – a Japanese jockey at that. Design for design’s sake fails. Does not meet the test of time. This is a bad idea.

1 Comment

  • Evander Klum| June 6, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Like all manufacturers, Mazda produces concepts to tease us into thinking they will actually produce something interesting such parts like Mazda expansion tank, luminescent lights, great body kits, etc… then they deliver the same old shit. Most of the visual elements of this concept won’t see the light of day.

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