HIROSHIMA, Japan -- Does Mazda have enough brand cachet to market designer goods -- such as gadgets, apparel and furniture -- as luxury marques such as Porsche have done?
Global design boss Ikuo Maeda wants to try it with a Mazda Design line, starting with an artsy new metal and leather chair.
Maeda says the idea has the support of Mazda Motor Corp. CEO Masamichi Kogai and the automaker could be selling items in a couple of years.
“He thinks the same thing,” Maeda said. “He likes the idea.”
The project could be more than just another creative outlet for the goateed, perpetually black-clad Maeda. Stylish avant-garde goods may help cultivate a more premium, edgy image for Mazda as the brand looks to lift itself from the mass-market mainstream.
Mazda wants to step ahead of the crowd by raising transaction prices, slashing incentives and boosting resale values. Creating a near-premium buzz with better-appointed interiors, sexy sheet metal -- and now, possibly, must-have merchandise -- may help.
The strategy works for upscale brands.
Porsche AG, for example, founded the Porsche Design Group to hawk everything from $475 driving shoes and titanium “reading tool” eyeglasses to $900 puffy down vests and custom-built BlackBerry smartphones -- all adorned with the Porsche Design name.
Mazda’s ramp-up, if it happens, will be a lot slower.
For now, Maeda’s studio has only the one chair. Dubbed the Kodo Chair, in reference to his cars’ curvy design language, the four-legged recliner evokes a race car’s form-fitting cockpit.
Mazda exhibited the chair at last year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a leading global furniture fair in Milan.
At the time Mazda said in a release: “Painstakingly crafted, there are distinct parallels between the chair and Mazda models with the Kodo design, such as the ready-to-pounce, forward-leaning stance conveying the sudden release of pent-up energy.”
Nothing has been decided about launching the goods line.
But Maeda said he aims to build more chairs for sale and then branch into other fashionable goods: “Not only furniture, but I’d like to build a Mazda Design brand. That’s my dream.”