HIROSHIMA, Japan — Ikuo Maeda, the new design chief at Mazda Motor Corp., earned the nickname "Speedy" for his lead-footed driving on the race course and off.
He may be the only standing auto executive to have had his license revoked — twice.
It's only natural then that Maeda, who took the design reins last April, views himself as the rightful guardian of Mazda's zoom-zoom brand heritage. And he has the bloodline to prove it.
Not only did Maeda design the bold, muscular silhouette of today's RX-8 sports car. But a generation before, his father — himself a Mazda stylist — designed the RX-8's spiritual ancestor, the original RX-7.
"I was a real car lover long before I started designing cars," Maeda said in an interview at Mazda's headquarters in this western Japanese port city.
"There are lots of car enthusiasts at Mazda, but I think I'm at the top."
Small wonder that keeping Mazda sporty and dynamic is Maeda's top priority. The 50-year-old races MX-5 Miata roadsters in his spare time and keeps a yellow modified race-spec Lotus Elise in his private garage. And despite Maeda's ties to the RX-8, his big pet project is bringing back the RX-7.
"I do have a strong yearning to revive the RX-7 during my tenure," Maeda said. "But in order for that to happen, we need the U.S. economy to come back, first and foremost."
In the meantime, the new-generation Mazda5 minivan, with its wavy side paneling, is a sign of things right around the corner. The styling — meant to impart a fluid, natural movement — springs from the Nagare series of concept cars Maeda has worked on. The series began three years ago under the direction of his predecessor, Laurens van den Acker, who came from Ford Motor Co.
"It is like a Japanese garden," Maeda said of the inspiration for Nagare, which means "flow" in Japanese. "It encapsulates nature in a restricted area. It re-creates nature in something man-made."