The "Emotional Monoform" design was born from the image of a droplet of water sitting on top of a leaf.
The meaning behind the "Clean-Dynamic" design concept.
Tracing the story back to the very early stages of design development.
-Could you explain to us the "Clean-Dynamic" exterior design concept?
Sawai : At a very early stage of design development, we submitted a concept representing the image of a droplet of water sitting on top of a leaf; the shape of a droplet of water rounded by the tensions building on the surface as it sits on top of the leaf. Most people were not able to understand the meaning and it was eventually put aside. However, the true origin of the final exterior design goes back to that concept.
-I am afraid I don't quite understand either.
Sawai : I am sorry. Designing a car is oftentimes the bringing together of building blocks like the front of the car, including the engine room, the interior cabin in which the passengers sit, the trunk where the luggage fit, the surface around the tires and so forth. Certain design choices have an implicit meaning: a long nose is the symbol of a powerful multi-cylinder engine, while big tires convey the message of big torque. However, these longstanding design messages are clearly associated with gasoline-powered automobiles. As we move toward electric and fuel cell-powered vehicles, car design language is likely to go through a complete rethink.
-Meaning the days of a long nose to convey the message of power are coming to an end?
Sawai : As we embarked on the design of the New Civic, we designers all felt the history of the automobile in relation to people, society and the environment is fast approaching a turning point. This spurred us to try new design expressions. One such example is the "Puyo" design concept we exposed at the 2007 Tokyo Motorshow. On the basis of a fuel cell powertrain, we devised an efficient platform design and matched it with a rounded, environmentally responsible, and people-friendly minimalist exterior. The New Civic follows the same train of thoughts and our wish to create a future where people, the environment and the automobile can exist in harmony. The beauty of a droplet of water on top of a leaf comes from the harmonious balance between internal forces and the pressure on the outside. If we transpose this into car designing, it is the bringing together of various functions and elements in a harmonious shape whose very existence appears natural. This is the thought we had in mind when we came up with the "Clean-Dynamic" concept.
Nakai : The exterior of the previous model was praised for its futuristic design. But when we look back at it now, it also has a cold, robot-like feel to it. The trend is increasingly shifting toward more humane, environmentally conscious, warmer designs. That is why the New Civic has an emotional, yet at the same time heart-warming, even more seamless monoform design.
Sawai : When you look at the car from the side, it is almost like the side of a drop of water in what we call a "Progress Monoform" design. It is completely different from the European school of car design where the engine room and cabin form independent blocks, even in 5-door hatchbacks, to create a typical two-box design.
Nakai : It is easier to give the car road presence that way. It is particularly evident when we look at premium brands in Europe. We, on the other hand, have tried to give the New Civic the required road presence using "clean," seamless lines in a single, flowing mass.
Toriyama : To be honest, it took quite some time for the "clean" keyword to be understood and accepted within the company (laugh).
Sawai : At the time, how often have we been told "What do you mean by a "clean" exterior design? A sporty exterior design? Yes. Sporty in the sense of aggressive? Yes. But "clean?!"
Toriyama : As hybrids and other environmentally friendly cars are now making inroads in the market, an increasing number of people are starting to say that "clean" has a nice sound to it after all.
Sawai : Absolutely. Everybody is now talking of superior aerodynamics and environmentally conscious cars, of replacing sheer power with low resistance, of smoother forward motion as though flowing freely and rapidly through the air. What we have aspired to create with the New Civic is a new form of "sporty." One that befits today's increasingly environment conscious world.
Toriyama : Early in the development of the New Civic, I was sent to Europe for a month. While I was surrounded by so many European cars every day, I started to notice a number of key design elements.
-What do you mean by that?
Toriyama : Compared to Japanese cars, European cars have a sturdier, more purposeful stance. European design is also very good at emphasizing the wheels and tires.
Nakai : I was with Mr. Toriyama during his stay in Germany, and it is curious how, as we spent more time working on the design locally, we started feeling increasingly more strongly about coming up with a design that could upstage anything we were seeing around us. No matter how purposeful the car's stance.
Sawai : For us exterior designers, the whole idea is to find the right proportions. But, as much as the right proportions are difficult to find, they are even more difficult to explain or put into words. So it is always all too easy to find ourselves deviating from the subject to delve on the design of the grille or the headlight, the way the body side looks or where and how a character line should be drawn—evading the more global issue somehow. However, it is quite clear that, when choosing a car, European customers do not so much look at the detail work, but the overall shape and the energy that emanates from it. It is as though one look is enough for them to gauge the car's potential and performance level. In Japan, boxy designs are the fashion, so we tend to lose our sense of proportions. But as we spent more time in Europe, we came to realize what some of the more essential elements in car design are. The exterior of the previous Civic clearly exudes a sense of mass, but seeing it from behind on the autobahn, it somehow looks too tall and rounded. This is why we have worked hard to give the New Civic its wide and low appearance.
-You have improved the stance.
Sawai : Yes, we have lowered the overall height and increased the overall width. From the very start we had in mind to reduce the car's frontal surface to improve fuel efficiency. We also wanted to lower the vehicle's center of gravity for improved handling dynamics. So everything converged to create the look of the final design.
Nishimoto : But lowering the overall height is actually becoming more and more difficult.
Sawai : Increasingly stringent rules on pedestrian protection require a relatively high hoodline. A higher hoodline in turn requires a higher eyepoint to provide for the necessary forward visibility. And a higher eyepoint in turn requires a higher roofline to provide for the necessary head clearance. The trend is clearly toward taller designs so reducing overall height as we have done in the New Civic is no small feat.
Nishimoto : Keeping a low overall height had also been an important development theme in the previous model, making our work for the new model even more difficult. This time around, we have had to go to the extent of debating the thickness of bolt washers to try to win another 1 or 2 millimeters.
Sawai : The proportions we have been able to achieve are the results of a lot of hard work. We have adopted many design techniques for a visually lower and wider look than the actual dimensions would suggest possible.