How do you go about developing an object of universal desire? Program Manager Kota Beppu reveals how hands-on experiences helped his team to capture the spirit of the All-New Mazda3.
At Mazda, we don’t engineer to a spec – we engineer to a feeling. The moments that move are always the starting point for planning a new vehicle. I want the finished product to express these feelings clearly, but there is an obvious problem: How can I reproduce or even adequately communicate these feelings and experiences to the development team? I was convinced that only if the people involved in the initial planning phases shared the same input would they come to the same conclusion as me. So I took designers and planners with me to go and meet customers around the world.
We always develop our cars with the target customer in mind. But there is only so much information you can get from just meeting people. It is critically important that we also observe the environments they live in. lf we hadn’t gone to meet our target customers in person, Idon’t think we would have come up with such a clear-eyed concept for the Mazda3. There are a number of European manufacturers that produce high-quality cars. It makes you wonder how a single car can stand out and assert its presence. How can we make sure that our customers don’t feel like they’re just part of the crowd?
To figure out an answer to this question, instead of just interviewing people, we accompanied them to a variety of places. Home, work, hotels, restaurants – wherever they went, we followed and observed. At the nicer places, for example, there might be valet parking. We watched everything: the gestures the driver makes when handing the key over to the valet, their body movements and demeanour. How do they navigate these environments? How do drivers find their car among rows of vehicles? How did they experience these situations? We keenly felt that the first-hand impressions we got contain lots of information that you cannot compile or fully communicate in a planning document.
When we came back and started the initial planning, I told the team, ‘Don’t think, feel!’. Since we’d all shared the same moments, I didn’t have to explain anything. Everyone understood that the goal was to build a car that would be truly desirable. We understood that we were going to distinguish the sedan and the hatchback from each other by developing a completely different character for each. We all shared the same values, and from the beginning, everybody contributed their ideas about how we could shape each car’s character. When I look back on the process, I really feel like this was the deciding factor behind our success.
If developers don’t approach their new product with this kind of emotion, it will not trigger any emotional response in the driver. The ideal in my mind was always that people would fall in love with the Mazda3 at first sight. Imagine a person walking around the corner of a street and a Mazda3 happens to catch their eye. They think, ‘Wait, what’s that?’ and do a double-take. That is the kind of first-time encounter I want to create. Nothing makes me happier than when I hear from a person who has never been interested in cars that they came upon the new Mazda3, liked it right away and ended up buying one. In life, we broaden our horizons when we come upon things we didn’t know about before. I would like the cars I make to provide an impetus like that. I hope we have a whole lot of people who come across the new Mazda3 and think that this car could make their life more fun, even if they are not particularly interested in cars. lf that happens, then I will feel that I have done my job as program manager. That’s what I dream of.