A dramatic vision in the dead of night, but behind this spectacular image lies a tale of cutting-edge design and engineering perseverance to produce the stunning, high-tech lights on the new Mazda3. Zoom-Zoom speaks to the team who created them

Story by Shogo Hagiwara, Photography by Paul Calver

The red and white light-lasers snake through the Spanish night under a pitch-black sky. It’s a marvellous collaboration between Mother Nature and human ingenuity. Yet while it looks like a scene from a sci-fi film, behind those seemingly infinite lines is the new Mazda3, whose front and rear lighting systems have been completely reimagined, along with the rest of the car. Atsushi Yoshida, assistant manager of Mazda’s Exterior Design Group, explains the company’s philosophy about lamp design and its expression.

“Our Kodo – Soul of Motion design is all about breathing life into car design, and for the previous generation [of Mazda3], we designed lamps that gave a lively expression to the face with a ring-shape lighting pattern inspired by the eye of a cheetah set to pounce on its prey,” he says. “To further enhance the expression of life on the new generation of cars, which starts with the new Mazda3, we started working on what we call ‘Lamp Vision’. This is a concept that defines ‘Car as Art’, furthering Kodo to express the new car’s advanced physique and form, as well as the movements of light, through the lamp design.”

“We wanted to create a powerful design that could spark a moment when passers-by would be compelled to look”

Keisuke Watanabe, exterior designer 

WORKSHOPS

As part of the design process, Yoshida and his team held a series of workshops where they would study everything from crystal made by high-end manufacturers to artworks and industrial products so as to fully understand the fundamental functions of light, as well as how they could be incorporated into Mazda’s vehicle design language. There was also an ‘exhibition’ to display prototypes created through the workshops. “What was most important for us were that the lamps embodied a powerful forward movement of the car, like a Japanese archery bow ready to be unleashed, and that the lamp design was stripped to a bare minimum, achieving the ultimate functional beauty,” Yoshida recalls.

With the direction set, exterior designer Keisuke Watanabe started to think how the Lamp Vision concept could work on a production model. “We believed we could try something impactful to make this car stand out,” he says. Watanabe innovated and experimented to achieve a lighting signature as bold as it is simple, producing an uncountable number of sketches, computer renderings and mock-ups, before completing the three-dimensional, masterfully crafted lamp design.

But aspiring to a more cutting-edge form in design can provide a headache for production engineers. “There were moments when we had to have a ‘serious’ conversation,” smiles Yoshiaki Nakaya, assistant manager of the Exterior Components Development Group. As a result, Nakaya ended up rethinking the inner workings of the lighting systems, which, while minimising amends to the original design, resulted in the car projecting more light on the road for greater safety. The evolution of Mazda’s technology is as sleek as its designs.

“Each of the front headlamps boasts an increased 20 LEDs that help improve visibility at night for the driver”

LIGHTING TECHNOLOGY

The adaptive headlights on the Mazda3 have been re-engineered to make night driving safer and easier. Each of the front headlamps boasts an increased 20 LED units that help improve visibility at night for the driver. Those units are designed to automatically adjust the intensity of illumination to the highest precision depending on the speed at which the car is travelling, as well as the steering input. The headlights are also connected to a front-facing camera mounted on the car’s windscreen.

This assesses the darkness of the road ahead and produces a lighting pattern that is optimised for the environment and other vehicles, helping to greatly improve overall road safety at night. As Manabu Yamaoka of the Electronic Platform Development Department explains: “Designers passionately talk about their visions, and we engineers will try and marry those visions with the latest technology to develop our new lighting technology. We will then also develop a system that enables us to mount this new lighting technology on any of Mazda’s new cars going forward.”