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Is this the look of the future at Mazda?

Although the Mazda Washu concept vehicle introduced at the North American international Auto Show is fundamentally about interior packaging more than tearing up the streets, Moray Callum, head of Mazda Design Div., notes, "It looks like a fast vehicle; it doesn't look like a slug." In fact, what could be ungenerously defined as a "people hauler" has a Cd value of 2.5. This slipperiness is attained via the use of such things as video cameras in the A-pillars replacing side mirrors and a full cover for the undercarriage). Be that as it may, the Washu (which, incidentally, is the Japanese word for "Eagle's wing") is not about Zoom-Zoom as much as it is about Room-Room. There's seating for six inside, with pairs of captain's chairs adjacent to one another.

There are two innovative aspects to the Washu, which Callum, when asked whether it isn't a rendition of the one-box design, demurs and suggests that it is more of a "one-and-a-quarter box." There is, admittedly, a slight bulge for the engine compartment (a 3.5-liter V6 is in there), which accounts for the 0.25 box. The two innovative aspects:

1. Ingress and egress for passengers who will be sitting in the two sets of rear seats are via a door that slides back in a way that is analogous to that of the door on a minivan--but only after the door moves outward: Think of the way a door opens on a jet aircraft. But more than the conventional space that's provided by even a large van opening (the rear door opening measures 43.3 inches across), the rear doors on the Washu actually provide headroom, as they actually cut into the roof area by 15.7 inches. There is a massive open space. Callum says that this is practical in that the new RX-8 provides a rather extensive opening via its suicide-door structure, so it shouldn't be difficult to achieve should the Washu become a production vehicle. The front doors open almost 90[degrees] to enhance ingress and egress for the frontal occupants. And speaking of openings, the rear hatch not only drops down a'la a conventional SUV, but the upper portion is a hatch that has a hinge further back up on the roof than is t he norm, thereby providing an exceptionally wide opening through which things can be fitted into the cargo area.

2. There is an instrument panel that not only permits the driver to adjust its position (higher for those seeking the SUV-like viewing perspective or lower down so that there is more of a sports-car, er, truck, er--well, it isn't clear what it is, and Callum doesn't provide a definition of what he thinks the Washu is), but which moves up and out of the way. What's more, the steering wheel--well, it isn't really a wheel per se (Callum suggests "steering control system")--anyway, the steering device actually collapses into the instrument panel so there is plenty of room for the driver and front passenger to get in and out. This functionality is said to be made possible through the use of steer-by-wire technology, which eliminates the need for fixed mechanical linkages.

Inside, there's a flat floor. The seats have a clamshell design so that they can be folded flat to provide additional cargo area. The middle pair of seats can be electrically moved fore and aft by 25.3 in.; they are also adjustable side-to-side, so as to provide more room for people who need to get to the third row. Actual adults, not tiny versions, are said to be accommodated even in the back section.

If something like the Washu ever comes to production, it will probably have initial life in Japan rather than the U.S. As Callum points out, there is a greater tendency for vehicles to be used in Japan for their space (in addition to their transportation aspects). "Multiseat vehicles are popular in Japan," he says, adding, "Minivans are still cool in Japan."
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Title Annotation:Mazda Motor Corp.
Author:Vasilash, Gary S.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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