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[Environmental Protection] Reducing the Environmental Burden throughout the Value Chain (Development, Production, and Sales) Rising to the Challenge of Genuine Innovation by Transcending Existing Frameworks[Development] Pursuing Breakthroughs to Innovate Base Technologies and Realize a "Certain Something"

Norihiro Tomita  Program Manager, Vehicle Development Division, Mazda Motor Corporation

Work on the development of the new-generation SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY started in May 2007. The process began by taking the existing concept of vehicles right back to zero, and identifying only those elements that are absolutely necessary.

"We took a fresh look at every possibility, including things that had previously been dismissed as impossible," explains Norihiro Tomita of the Vehicle Development Division about the development concept.

In the vehicle development field, improving fuel economy is a major factor in reducing the environmental burden, and although there is a tendency to focus on the engine and transmission in the powertrain system, reducing vehicle weight also contributes significantly to increasing fuel economy. Mazda has announced its plan to reduce the weight of new models to be released from 2011 onward by 100kg, and a further 100kg reduction from 2016 onward. Simply making vehicles lighter, however, naturally creates problems with maintaining rigidity. "As an engineer, what's interesting is the question of how to balance the conflicting factors of light weight and rigidity, without giving up on one or the other." Filled with determination to optimize the two factors, the quest to achieve both at a high level led to uncompromising development efforts, including simplifying vehicle forms as far as possible and switching to a structure capable of effectively dispersing loads.

This drastic change could not have been achieved under the previous development system, which was based on vertical divisions between specialist areas. For the development of SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY, a horizontal development framework was put in place that enabled collaboration across different specialist areas such as design, testing, production technology, and purchasing. Targeting "ideals" in each field naturally results in incompatibilities. According to Tomita, "We can only progress to the next level by making breakthroughs that reconcile these incompatibilities." Those involved had to think not only about their own areas of expertise but also about others when coming up with ideas for improvements, thus discovering, in animated communication, better solutions for resolving problems. "As a result, we improved the 'base technologies' that underlie basic vehicle performance, raising the technological baseline overall," Tomita sums up.

photo : Test drive event in Berlin. Mazda's SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY attracted great admiration
Test drive event in Berlin. Mazda's SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY attracted great admiration

In August 2010, a prototype vehicle incorporating SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY appeared at European test drive events. After driving a prototype, one journalist shook hands with the officer in charge and simply said, "Congratulations!"

At that moment, Tomita was convinced that what they had aimed at was no mistake. At test drive events around the world, admiring comments included, "Even driving at 200 km/h, the steering is responsive and made me feel safe," and, "Its sporty dynamics in the corners are well-honed, and its stability when driving straight along the expressway is better than the current model."

However, improving the base technologies led to a new obstacle coming into view.

During his three years as General Manager of the R&D Center of Mazda Motors Europe (MME) in Germany, Tomita had one impression from driving a large number of different vehicles there. "Vehicles that can be described as 'premium' have more than just base technologies. They have a certain something, resulting from in-depth research that extends to human sensibilities."

One journalist has expressed that certain something as, "a car that doesn't raise any question marks in your head." For example, a car in which everything feels intuitive, including the shape of the door handle, its position, its feel when you take hold of it, the line of flow when moving on to the next action, and the sequence of actions involved in driving the car. "I think that providing peace of mind and contentment must involve knowing every detail of human sensibilities, and creating vehicle forms and responses that feel entirely natural to the driver," explains Tomita. "I want to bring Mazda vehicles up to a level where they are comparable with so-called 'premium' cars." With his extensive experience of study and research in Europe, Tomita's fighting spirit was apparent behind his smile.

When he was a child, Tomita wanted to be a plasterer. "I wanted to do something creative and hands-on," he said. He joined Mazda with the dream that one day, a car that he designed would be driven around the world. Today, he and his colleagues are striving together to reach a higher dimension. "Today's technologies will be obsolete tomorrow. Whatever solutions or improvements we achieve, it's the nature of engineers that we always want to improve on them still further."

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