Mazda Sassou Concept - Behind the Design

Taking a look at the design development of one of the stars of this year's Frankfurt Motor Show

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One of the most popular vehicles at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show was the Mazda Sassou concept car, designed to hint at where Mazda might be heading with a future B-car. Its conception and realization by a group of young Mazda designers from five countries under the leadership of Peter Birtwhistle, Chief Designer at Mazda’s European R&D Centre, is a great example of the cosmopolitan nature of today's design studios and how the range of skills and backgrounds is pooled to bring forward one of the World's fastest growing car companies.

In this article we look at the thinking behind the concept and some of the key stages in its development...

“Sassou had to be a lightweight B-car that would appeal to young, first-time buyers and we began designing the exterior immediately,” said Peter Birtwhistle. “Parallel to this, the entire team – which included the design and the colour and trim teams – brainstormed with our trend team to identify what young people would buy into by way of future technologies. We came up with the Mazda Alive illumination concept and that Sassou would have an interactive, USB stick key and hard disc drive . Then each group began working up design sketches on how these features should look in reality.”

The first exterior design sketches were made by Luca Zollino, Mazda Sassou’s lead designer working with both Peter Birtwhistle and Moray Callum, Executive Officer and General Manager of Mazda Motor Corporation’s Design Division. The team also included Masanori Minamisawa, Mazda Assistant Chief Designer now based at Mazda’s European R&D Centre in Oberursel, Germany, whose input was vital throughout the entire design and realization process. The design language depicted in these sketches – specifically, the panel articulation of the silhouette, the Mazda five-point rear end design and the unique glass roof design – was successfully transferred to the final concept car at a later date. At this point in development, however, the work of translating these images to reality had just begun.
“After we had confirmed our designs, we then began a phase in which the Mazda Sassou was literally crafted by hand,” said Birtwhistle. “This was the only way to project Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom design DNA through the futuristic exterior design sketches originally proposed. In fact, the final concept shown in Frankfurt is quite close to the sketches.”

The first step in realizing the exterior design was to produce a 2/5th sized model, based on the finalized sketches, that was sculptured by the design team in Oberursel by hand using clay.

Parallel to creating this clay mock-up, the colour and trim team, lead by Maria Greger, had produced an exterior surface in Dynoc film, which could be pasted onto the model and removed without damaging the surface below.

“The 2/5th model was one of the most important steps in the realization process,” said Birtwhistle, “since it was the first time we got to actually see the concept. The eye perceives real objects differently than drawn objects, so this was the first time we actually had something we could work with.”

The model already contains many of the Zoom-Zoom features that help make Sassou immediately recognizable as a Mazda, including the front end which is an evolution of the Mazda RX-8 with a large, sporty-looking five-point grille and bonnet. However, the model also has its unique Sassou fender design, which would later receive the chevron-shaped front lights as an integral part of the concept’s Mazda Alive illumination system. The European design team was now ready to present the model to Moray Callum and the changes he suggested at this point were carried out by hand on only one side of the model.

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