THERE’S A REASON MAZDA’S STYLISH NEW SUV MAY MAKE YOU THINK OF A SUBMARINE
What do a prototype personal submarine and the all-new Mazda CX-9 medium SUV have in common? Answer: design director Julien Montousse.
The CX-9 was launched at the recent Los Angeles motor show and a select group of journalists drove the four hand-built prototypes around the city two days before (read more right here).
The seven-seater has moved from a ‘‘people mover’’ persona into the medium SUV segment and gained an all-new 2.5-litre SkyActiv engine.
Originally launched in 2006, the second-generation CX-9 is 5065mm long, 30mm shorter than its predecessor but its wheelbase has been increased by 55mm.
The CX-9 goes on sale in the US in the first quarter next year but Kiwis won’t see a right-hand-drive until at least the middle of the year.
Mazda NZ’s managing director, Andrew Clearwater, said the company sold about 20 CX-9s a month, but would look to double that with the new model.
Clearwater said the arrival of the CX-9 will “complete the family of SUVs in the passenger lineup”.
Mazda NZ says the specs and pricing of the CX-9 are yet to be finalised but the models will be priced mid-$50,000 to mid-$60,000.
The CX-9 not only contains many of the Japanese company’s Kodo (meaning “Soul of Motion”) design aspects seen in the CX-3 and CX-5 crossovers but has the strong influence of Montousse. The Frenchman, who now heads Mazda North American Operations’ design team, is responsible for the innovative three-dimensional style interior of the CX-9.
The styling of the cockpit is centred around the driver and uses handpicked Japanese rosewood, Nappa leather and aluminium panels lined up to point towards the centre gauge. It is similar to Montousse’s personal submarine’s cockpit, where the designer also used driver-focussed aspects of the underwater prototype. “[In the CX-9] it’s a three-dimensional view, you have all the trim merging from the console and the door to the steering wheel in one straight line. It’s perfectly placed,” Montousse told Driven during a one-on-one interview at the fashionable SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills where the international media launch was held.
“We play with three-dimensional alignment. It’s a design trick when you sit in the car it looks like you have the whole interior design merging into one. If you change one line in the car you completely lose it. No other car brand is doing something like that.”
After studying design in Paris, and being sponsored by Renault, Montousse moved to China with his prototype personal submarine, the CODsub. “I spent all the money I had to make it work, but I realised that it required a lot more funding," he said.
Julien Montousse explains the interior (below) at the LA motor show. Picture/ Liz Dobson, supplied
So when General Motors asked him to move to America to work on the Pontiac and Cadillac brands, Montousse packed his submarine and headed to Detroit, then California, for four years.
But in 2009 Mazda North America contacted him and he moved to the brand as it began its extremely successful makeover.
He worked between the company’s Irvine, California, office and world headquarters in Hiroshima, Japan, focussing on the Mazda3, MX-5, and CX-3 models before heading the design team for the CX-9.
North America is the largest market for the three-row CX-9, with an expected 80 per cent of sales for the model.
The Irvine-based Montousse and his design team started work on the seven-seater in June 2013.
The interior and exterior design teams not only used data from customer research but also had to “continue evolving Kodo, which is the design philosophy”, said Montousse.
“You have to be true to the needs of a mid-sized SUV, but also do not bury design under ‘specs-matic’, you know, the cubic feet of the interior. We have to be very emotional about the design.”
At the beginning of last year, Montousse’s US team had developed scale and full-size models of the CX-9 exterior and a “full-finished” interior model, so it was time to move to Hiroshima.
The interior “was very liked from the beginning”, but when it came to the exterior Montousse’s team was “rechallenged to continue evolving”.
“The interior was fully approved by all management of Mazda, which is the best way to do it because then the whole team had one year to focus on craftsmanship. That’s why the interior looks so well built because we had a lot of time to really make sure every part came together at the highest level.”
The design team had to make the exterior of the CX-9 cohesive with Mazda’s other SUVs that had the Kodo design.
So the CX-9 has a long hood due to the A-pillar being moved back 100mm, large 20in wheels, short overhangs and a more prominent grille to make it “more SUV than a people mover”, said Montousse.
The result is a more aggressive appearance on the road due to the CX-9s tapered bumpers giving it a wide, trapezoidal stance.
“Even though it is a seven-person vehicle, it has a fast silhouette that brings a lot of dynamism. Yet we didn’t compromise with space and you have great cargo space inside,” he said. “There are all kinds of design tricks that we used to make it look very athletic even though it is a seven-seater passenger vehicle.
“It’s always give and take when working with the engineering team. The design had to challenge engineering, and change a little bit to work with that engineering package, but everyone was working in the same direction.”
And Montousse’s career is also heading the right direction.
After leading the CX-9 design he was promoted to design director of Mazda North America but it was an encounter Driven spotted at the LA motor show that was most telling.
World-acclaimed design guru, Hyundai and Kia’s Peter Schreyer, made a bee line for Montousse just after the global launch at the show. He shook the young Frenchman’s hand and spoke with him for a while.
Maybe multi-lingual Montousse will have to add Korean to his list of languages?