Editor's note: A photo caption on an earlier online version of this story had the incorrect model year for the Oldsmobile Cutlass.
LOS ANGELES -- With a car like the original Mazda Miata in his portfolio, a designer might be content to ride off into a sunset of academia and speaking gigs.
Not Tom Matano. He's giving it one more shot.
Matano, now 62, teamed with Mazda stylist Mark Jordan to create the famous roadster as a design study for Mazda Japan. But they made their case so persuasively that the car was given the go-ahead and became one of the most emphatic design statements of the 1980s.
Not that Matano stopped there. He is more proud of the swoopy 1993 RX-7 sports car. Add that to his contributions to BMW's E36 3 series of the 1990s and the waterfall grille of the 1976 Olds Cutlass, and he walked away with a timeless body of work.
But after eight years as executive director of industrial design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Matano is getting his hands dirty again.
He's not through as a teacher. But Matano is splitting his time as vice president of design for fledgling car company Next Autoworks, which plans to launch a small, gasoline-powered car in 2012.
Next, formerly known as V-Vehicle Co., recently got a boost with the hiring of auto industry veteran Kathleen Ligocki as CEO. But Next Autoworks' survival hinges on approval of a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. A previous application was denied.
Matano is the final styling arbiter of work done by Next designers Bryan Thompson and Anke Mazzei, who were poached from Nissan Design America. Next also hired some freelance specialists in computer-aided design, as well as some clay modelers to round out the team.
At press time, Next would not allow images of its prototype economy car to be published. But a half-hour walk-around showed the vehicle to be a utilitarian five-door hatchback in look and purpose. Imagine a cross between a Nissan Leaf and a Lada Niva, and you get the idea.