RYAN BEENE

Why Mazda’s top designer thinks the 'golden age' for styling is now

Ryan Beene is a Los Angeles-based reporter for Automotive News.Ryan Beene is a Los Angeles-based reporter for Automotive News.
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MONTEREY, Calif. -- When was the “Golden Age” of automotive design?

When you ask Derek Jenkins, Mazda’s design boss for North America, he doesn’t hesitate.

“A lot of people would argue this, but we’re living in the Golden Age of car design right now,” Jenkins said.

The amount of technology, performance and the level of detail going into vehicle design today that’s made possible by modern manufacturing capabilities “is unparalleled,” Jenkins said.

The tailfins and chrome gracing Detroit’s iconic vehicles from the 1950’s and 1960’s made for a magical era, Jenkins said.

“It was a time in this country when nothing could get in people’s way. The optimism was huge. But I would argue that even during that time, the average person was choosing between one or two different models of car from their neighbor.”

But the plethora of vehicle sizes, shapes, configurations and head-turning styling available on even entry-level vehicles makes the contemporary industry special, he said.

“The amount of design the average person can purchase if they so choose in a vehicle is staggering,” Jenkins said

Jenkins spoke during an interview at the press launch for the Mazda CX-5 crossover. The vehicle features Mazda’s new “Kodo” design language, which the automaker hopes will help its new cars stand out in a market that’s becoming increasingly design-focused. The car’s cab-rearward profile, wide stance, fluid surface texture and its new, high-sitting, wide-mouth grille will appear on future Mazda models.

Jenkins knows, though, that the democratization of high design makes creating standout vehicles even more critical for success.

Said Jenkins: “Everybody’s stepping up their game and it creates, I don’t want to say, pressure, but it gives us more fuel to do what we believe is the right thing to do.”

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com. -- Follow Ryan on Twitter

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