Originally published Aug. 26, 2002

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: Mazda's Matano trades his pen for pointer

Tom Matano, who led the design of the legendary Miata roadster and influenced two generations of products in a 19-year career at Mazda Motor Corp., is leaving the Japanese automaker for a teaching post.

Matano, 54, will become director of industrial design at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco effective Sept. 5.

Matano has been the acting head of design at Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima, Japan, for about the last four years. Officially, his title remained executive vice president for design at Mazda R&D of North America Inc. in Irvine, Calif.

In a telephone interview Friday, Aug. 23, Matano said his North American position had been made redundant in a previous restructuring. With his tour of duty in Japan complete, Mazda would have had to invent a title for him in Irvine.

Last September, Mazda named Moray Callum, 43, as its design director. Moray's older brother Ian is design director for Jaguar. Ford Motor Co. owns 33.4 percent of Mazda and all of Jaguar.

The Japan-born Matano, who emigrated to the United States at the age of 18, said he had "always wanted to deal with students."

"I wanted to do something more experimental than something within one company's confinement. Creating a future designer is more advanced than just doing advanced design," Matano said. Although a graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., Matano said he felt pulled by the potential of the newer industrial design department at Academy of Art.

"Art Center is a training ground for the single purpose of getting a job at an auto company," Matano said.

After spending about six years at Holden Ltd., General Motors' Australian subsidiary, Matano joined Mazda in 1983 and soon went to work designing the Miata.

Unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989 and sold for the first time as a 1990 model, the Miata was an instant hit as an affordable, good-looking car with more than adequate performance.

In February, it was listed by Guinness World Records as the world's best-selling sports car. Mazda has produced more than 600,000 Miatas.

Matano said he has enjoyed the acclaim for the Miata. But he said his "most rewarding pure design" would be the 1993 RX-7 because of its lasting design characteristics.

More recently, Matano has been the manager behind the stylists who have designed a string of models that are to be the basis of a Mazda revival. They include the Mazda6, Demio and long-awaited RX-8, the successor to the rotary engine-powered RX-7 sports car.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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