Mazda’s First Electric Vehicle, The MX-30

We speak with chief designer Yoichi Matsuda about the brand's first EV

One of the first cars Yoichi Matsuda (chief designer at Mazda) owned was a 1991 MX-5 Miata. He joined the brand just a year before, in 1990, and shortly after, the Miata hit the Japanese market—then the world. And Matsuda has been with Mazda ever since—an incredibly long career as a designer in the car world. We met with him at the Tokyo Motor Show, and learned that the new MX-30 EV gets the same nomenclature as the Miata to indicate to buyers that this is a sportier car, even though the CX Mazda crossovers are some of the sportiest models in that segment.

This is also why it gets miniature half rear doors—what are known in Mazda-speak as “freestyle” doors, last seen on the RX-8. And the doors articulate far more than on a conventional car: up to 82 degrees for the front, and 80 degrees for the rear. Matsuda notes how much freedom that gives a designer because when an entire cabin is exposed, it makes even a smaller car feel airy. He says that it could have been more difficult to retain rigidity if the MX-30 ran on gas, but because it already needs a thicker floor structure to hold batteries, Mazda was able to keep the vehicle stiff, without compromise.

By blacking out the sweeping roofline at the rear and creating a two-tone configuration, the design team truly sets off the roof from the rest of the body.

The MX-30 has all-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring to send power to any individual wheel, but Matsuda says the goal was to “engineer” the feedback for the driver aurally also, so that they can hear the MX-30 when it’s in a performance mode. This is a new challenge in an age when growling engines are giving way to electric motors that whir. (Another challenge that Mazda will face regarding this car is the range, because in its current configuration, it would equal about 120 miles and yet the car costs as much as the Hyundai Kona EV, whose range is some 258 miles.)

One fundamental mission, Matsuda says, was to be sure to keep the interior from appearing super-futuristic. “That was really exactly the opposite of our intention,” he tells us. The result is a cabin that’s exceedingly free of sheen. The fabrics are made of a wool-like fabric that’s actually made from recycled plastic bottles. “All manufacturers have to think this way now,” he says. “Thinking about the ethics of our customers and employing recycled materials. And then here we really looked at the feeling those materials can provide.”

There are also cork accents throughout the cabin, rather than conventional wood. Matsuda explains that one of the earliest businesses for Mazda was actually harvesting cork from Abemaki trees in Hiroshima, where the carmaker is still headquartered. Matsuda tells us that even before the exterior of the MX-30 had been sketched, he knew he wanted to employ cork. “It’s the perfect green material,” he says. “When you harvest cork, you just strip the bark.” The trees remain and keep growing and absorbing C02, so not only does Matsuda love the soft feel of cork in the cabin, he also loves the signal, if subliminal, for an EV to be about sustainability.

The MX-30 EV has just gone on sale in Europe for delivery next year, and will likely hit the US in 2021.

Images courtesy of Mazda