Mazda unveiled an innovative six-seat concept car at the 2003 North American International Auto Show today. Mazda Washu – which means "Eagle's Wing" in Japanese – is the first in a string of significant concept and production vehicles Mazda will unveil at auto shows throughout calendar year 2003. Together, these vehicles will showcase Mazda's commitment to swift and focused product development and offer global auto consumers a glimpse at the vehicles that will carry Mazda successfully through the end of the decade. The Mazda Washu concept demonstrates the company's innovative approach to vehicle/passenger interaction in a compelling, modernly proportioned vehicle.
"Mazda's product offensive is well underway," said Lewis Booth, President and CEO of Mazda Motor Corporation. "We launched two all-new products in 2002 and we will launch three additional products, including the brand icon Mazda RX-8, in 2003. We have a clear direction for our product – stylish, insightful and spirited automobiles. Washu is a quick glimpse of the type of product that will lead us forward."
The new Mazda concept vehicle was developed as a calculated experiment into how customers interact with a vehicle's interior space. Low, sleek and well proportioned, Mazda's six-seat concept also works to tear down the barriers that traditionally separate sports cars and family cars. Just as the all-new Mazda RX-8 is a unique approach to the four-seat performance car, the new concept is an innovative approach to a six-seat configuration. As with all Mazda products, central to the development was a commitment to make every moment in a car exciting, whether traveling from place to place or just driving for fun.
The Mazda Washu, which hints at Mazda's next-generation design direction, combines functionality and refined passenger comfort with well-proportioned, modern styling that presents a level of visual excitement previously not found in multi-seat vehicles. "The RX-8 expressed its 'Zoom-Zoom' passion on its surface. The Mazda Washu, on the other hand, presents a dynamic message through the proportions of the vehicle," said Moray Callum, the head of Mazda Design Division.
"For example, the innovative sliding doors, which are one of the key aspects of this concept car, solve problems such as ease of getting in and out. At the same time, the door system adds a new and interesting element to the design. A six seater that sends such a strong visual message is really unprecedented. If the RX-8 represents excitement for four people, our six-seat concept presents excitement for six people."
Central to the concept are the vehicle's doors, both front and rear. The front two doors, with unique forward hinging, open extremely wide to an angle of nearly 90 degrees – presenting the appearance of an eagle, soaring with outstretched wings. The rear sliding doors are also innovative, opening first outward and then sliding rearward much like the doors on a jet liner. Functional too, the doors, when ajar, present a large opening into the vehicle's roofline that greatly assists access to the rear seats. The doors are just one example of how the concept experiments with vehicle/passenger interaction.
The aggressive, modern proportions are key to the visual appeal of the six-seat concept. The powerful, wide, low-slung layout communicates a driving dynamic message. The overall height of the vehicle is a relatively sleek 61.8 inches (1,570 mm). The beltline extends slightly outward to provide a sense of enhanced interior spaciousness, while the glass area is maximized to provide an open and roomy atmosphere within the cabin. The roof also incorporates extensive glass area to further enhance the spacious feeling.
The vehicle's smooth silhouette achieves a Cd value of 0.25, with the vehicle's undercarriage fully covered to better control the flow of air. Side mirrors have been eliminated, replaced by external video cameras that contribute to the aerodynamics and reduce blind spots, thereby enhancing safety. The front of the vehicle features narrow, integrated LED headlamps and a fresh interpretation of Mazda's well-recognized, five-point grille.
The central aim of the interior design was to create a sound sense of "structure." The upper body is a defined frame, for example, encasing an interior space that has been laid out with the passengers as the central consideration. This approach is personified by the B-pillars, which are independent of the doors and arranged in an offset layout. These exposed pillars add visually to the "structure" of the interior space.
Additionally, the Mazda Washu incorporates the traditional functionality found in Japanese architecture. The interior can be modified in a number of ways to meet the needs of changing circumstances and satisfy unique passenger and cargo carrying requirements. Furthermore, particular attention has been paid to the textures of the individual elements composing the interior structure. Materials such as leather, aluminum and ebony wood "kokutan", are skillfully arranged to create a refined, luxurious environment. The cabin employs an overall arched framework in the ceiling – the structure's frame – beneath which details such as the trim and seats are placed in an arrangement that is striking to the eye and comes together in a coordinated overall image.
Airline-inspired Door System
As they developed the Mazda Washu, Mazda's designers paid particular attention to the door systems. Most notable – and central to the design – are the "airplane doors," which offer exceptionally wide openings: with the sliding door fully extended. Passengers are presented an opening that measures 43.3 inches (1,100 mm) across, with an additional 15.7-inch (400 mm) opening into the roof section. This allows passengers to enter the vehicle in an almost upright position, making it dramatically easier than traditional cars or minivans. Similarly, the front doors open extremely wide, to almost 90 degrees, swinging completely out of the way.
The tailgate was also carefully considered, and an innovative approach was adopted that combines the attributes of a traditional hatchback and with an SUV-like tailgate that drops straight down, parallel to the rear of the vehicle. Once the lower section is opened, the upper section of the hatchback – which is hinged well into the roof – can be lifted, offering a significantly wide opening for awkward pieces of cargo.
Functional, Flexible Seating
The six-seat concept benefits from a low, flat floor and long wheelbase, both of which help to maximize interior space. The three pairs of seats, from front to back, provide ample room for six adults, with space to spare to move around comfortably. The passenger area is completely separated from the cargo area by a partition and tonneau cover. Thus, the interior can accommodate from one to six persons and is suitable for a wide range of applications.
Special effort was applied to ensure the seats would be flexible enough to adapt to a variety of circumstances. The aim was to make them extremely comfortable over an extended period of time – for long journeys – but also make certain they folded neatly out of the way and could move sufficiently to maximize cargo volume. A clamshell design was chosen in order to meet both these requirements, as it allows the chairs to be folded forward – flat – which makes room for easy stowage of long cargo measuring up to 118.1 inches (3000 mm) in length.
The seats in the Washu are captain's chairs. The middle pair of seats is electrically powered and can be independently moved fore-and-aft a full 25.3 inches (645 mm). The seats can also slide to the side to allow easier access to the rearmost pair of seats.
Deployable Instrument Panel and Steer-by-Wire
Interior space is further enhanced with an innovative packaging concept that represents a new advance in steer-by-wire technology (which eliminates the need for a traditional steering shaft.) Using steer-by-wire technology, Mazda's designers invented a way to neatly store the steering wheel inside the instrument panel when the vehicle is parked, easing entry and egress for the driver and front-seat passenger.
The instrument panel in the Mazda concept is adjustable to two distinct levels. As such, in combination with the seat position, the driver can select between two driving positions: a sports driving mode with a snug "cockpit" feel or a cruising mode with a relaxed, upright seating position. Adding to the cockpit flexibility are auto adjustable pedals that help ideally accommodate the seating position of a large variety of drivers. A new linkage mechanism in the auto adjustable pedals ensures that the lever ratio – and thus the overall performance and feel of the pedals – does not change regardless of position.
Further, the adjustable instrument panel makes access to the front of the car more convenient, as it can be moved upward a full 11.8 inches (300 mm). In this position, and with the steering wheel stowed, getting in or out of the front seats is particularly easy. The retractable steering wheel also enhances the level of security when the vehicle is parked. From the stowed position, an ID card is used to automatically deploy the instrument panel and steering wheel into the driving position.
The Heart of a Mazda: Responsive Handling and Performance
While the six-seat concept is a showcase for design, performance is at its heart. The vehicle is equipped with an all-new 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers smooth acceleration and plenty of torque. In addition, DSC provides the latest vehicle control system. The six-speed automatic transmission features steering-wheel-mounted gearshift actuators to further enhance driver involvement. In addition, double wishbone suspension in the front and multi-link suspension in the rear increase dynamic performance. The 225-750R540A Michelin PAX run-flat tires were selected with aerodynamics in mind. The tires are mounted on ten-spoke wheels.
From the pursuit of the rotary engine to the innovative door system on the RX-8, Mazda has a rich heritage of technological achievement that is born from the inventive thinking that flows through the company's engineering community. The Washu concept, like many Mazda concepts before, showcases a number of insightful features currently under development.
Roof with LCD Dimmer Glass
The cabin features an open, roomy feeling thanks to glass that is incorporated into the roof section. In this area, designers chose LCD dimmer glass that can be switched electrically between transparent and non-transparent states. This allows the cabin to be changed to match the situation and conditions. It also brings subtle changes in the vehicle's smooth silhouette.
The vehicle features a large, eight-inch LCD multi-information display that can be deployed from the center portion of the instrument panel. The intuitive display controls the navigation system, driving information services such as Telematics, the climate control system and the audio system. A centrally-mounted trackpad system allows the user to manipulate the items on the multi-information display in much the same manner as one operates the cursor on the screen of a laptop PC.
Video cameras mounted on the sides of the front doors (in place of traditional side mirrors) and on the rear gate allow the driver to monitor select angles of the vehicle. The images from the cameras are displayed on video monitors mounted on the cowl of the instrument panel.
The climate control system is designed to reduce the need for traditional heating and cooling ducts and fan-type blowers. Instead, in the Washu concept, cool or warm air is introduced into the cabin from the ceiling area by blowers mounted into the body structure. Rather like indirect lighting, the passengers are not directly conscious of it. The climate control system maintains the cabin interior at a constant, comfortable temperature.
Rear-Seat DVD Entertainment System
A large, 15-inch DVD screen is mounted in the ceiling to enable video playback of DVD movies for the passengers in the rear seats. Combined with the 6.1-channel, surround sound entertainment system, the cabin is transformed into an exciting home theater on the road.
The LED headlamps are equipped with an Automatic Focusing System (AFS) linked to the vehicle's steering mechanism. It extensively enhances visibility while cornering at night by adjusting the direction of the light accordingly.
Electronic Parking Brake
The Mazda Washu is equipped with an electronic parking brake system. Pressing the brake pedal when the car is stopped automatically engages the parking brake, and pressing the accelerator automatically disengages it. The system also has a "snow mode" designed to prevent the parking brake from freezing in low-temperature environments.
A Look at the Future
In all, the Mazda Washu is a design exercise that encourages potential customers to reconsider the idea of a six-seat vehicle. It was developed by a dedicated team from the Mazda Design Division at the company's headquarters in Hiroshima, Japan. Their goal was to present a well-proportioned design that would celebrate Mazda's strong product DNA – its Zoom-Zoom spirit – and also question the traditional approach to a six-seat vehicle. Fun to drive and functional, the Mazda Washu is an innovative, insightful vehicle that defies traditional definitions and points to the future direction of Mazda design.