Kansei, or emotional engineering, is a key design concept for Mazda. Since the 1930s, Mazda evolved a theory that emotions such as joy and excitement are as crucial in developing a car as a technical specification. Former CEO Kenichi Yamamoto championed Kansei as a cornerstone of Mazda’s philosophy. Yamamoto was appointed head of the company in 1984 and was insistent that technological advancement should not detract from the focus on the driver experience. Yamamoto believed a car should have personality and character rather than mass-market appeal. He said that Mazda should create vehicles that met the needs of each individual instead of those that attempted to address a wide range of requirements.
The result – Yamamoto’s ‘Car Culture Theory’ – took inspiration from Kansei engineering, which he interpreted as “a psychological action caused through our five senses. The car must captivate not only the driver’s imagination but also that of the occupants”. As a result, the company started to develop a lightweight sports car, a bold move given the market outlook. Development was now underway for a car that would become the Mazda MX-5. The key dynamic concept of the MX-5 was ‘Jinba Ittai’. Today, this philosophy still used by Mazda sees the car and driver as one. 1989, the first Mazda MX-5 was released, and the rest is history.