LOS ANGELES -- Akihiro “Dezi” Nagaya, a key designer who brought more emboldened, emotional styling to Toyota and Lexus vehicles, has been named design general manager for affiliate Yamaha Motor Co.
Walking around any major international auto show, it was never hard to spot Nagaya. He was the guy with the confident gaze, the mad-scientist hair and the wardrobe seemingly borrowed from Keith Richards’ closet.
He also was the guy usually standing next to the coolest new Lexus or Toyota concept car, as befits the status of a chief designer. His work included the first- and third-generation Lexus LS, the second-generation Lexus GS and the second-generation Toyota Prius. And unlike some designers with thinner skin, Nagaya always was willing to banter about the plusses and minuses of a vehicle’s design.
For most of the past decade, Nagaya, 53, has been a leading design executive at Toyota Motor Corp. -- first as general manager of the Lexus brand planning department in Tokyo that created the “L-Finesse” styling language, and later as the chief designer for the global Toyota brand leading the movement for more passion and emotion in its vehicles.
More recently, he was president of Tecno Art Research, a freelance design hub for outsourced Toyota projects, including the styling of the Lexus RC-F high-performance coupe.
Now, in a rare corporate-alliance move, Nagaya has made the move to Yamaha, effective July 1. That means he’ll be with a company that produces motorcycles, boats, recreational vehicles, wheelchairs, marine products and three- and four-wheeled mobility vehicles.
In the motorcycling world, Yamaha already has some of the most progressive styling, in some cases giving the fabled Italian and German brands a run for their design dollar -- as seen with the VMAX, R1/R6 superbikes and Star cruisers.
But until three years ago, Yamaha didn’t really have an in-house design team. Most of its designs were outsourced to GK Design Group in Tokyo. Under the direction of Yamaha CEO Hiroyuki Yanagi, Yamaha Motor is powering up its own design efforts, with a strong thinker like Nagaya now running the shop.
“GK Design has been working for Yamaha by contract for long, long time,” Nagaya wrote in an e-mail interview. “Yamaha thought the importance of design to be a core matter of the company’s existence, therefore they decided to make an in-house brain and development center.”
It’s a ‘transfer’
Here’s where it gets interesting: Rather than calling this a new gig, Nagaya calls his move a “transfer from Toyota.”
Toyota has owned about 5 percent of Yamaha since 2000, and Yamaha bought a chunk of Toyota shares in return. Yamaha and Toyota have collaborated in the past on projects such as the 2000GT, MR2 and Celica sports cars and the more recent LFA exotic. And Yamaha is a key supplier in Toyota’s endurance-racing effort.
Last November, Toyota and Yamaha unveiled an early collaboration for next-generation personal vehicles, displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show. And Yamaha said they want to further plunge into the four-wheeled vehicle market, by unveiling the “Motiv” concept -- a collaboration with Gordon Murray Design.
Said Nagaya: “Though Yamaha has never collaborated with Toyota in their styling work, now it may pop up someday soon.”