There was a time when most Japanese cars actually were designed and made in Japan.
Now it's just as good a bet that the next major Japanese design innovation willbe from Orange County.
On Monday, Mazda Inc. broke ground in Irvine for a $23-million research and development center, which will be the third in Orange County for an Asian auto maker. Mazda also is one of four foreign car manufacturers--along with Mitsubishi and Suzuki of Japan and South Korea's Hyundai--to recently have placed headquarters for U.S. operations in Southern California.
"It's being close to the market," explained James David Power, a Westlake Village-based auto industry consultant. "If a model is going to be successful, it's usually going to be in Southern California first. It's the most competitive marketplace in the world."
In terms of development and design, Mazda is a comparative latecomer to that marketplace. The company was preceded here by the entry of Nissan, which has a design center near Carlsbad, and Toyota, which has two Southern California bases--a design center in Newport Beach and a research and development facility in Torrance.
Mazda's new research facility will focus on auto styling and design, with some limited work in research and short-term product development. The bulk of the research and development work will be done in a facility now under construction in Ann Arbor Township, Mich., which is set for completion next fall.
The two-story Irvine facility will house about 60 employees of Mazda's wholly owned subsidiary, Mazda (North America) Inc.
The subsidiary provides marketing, public relations, customer service and technical support to the manufacturer's two U.S. import and distribution companies.
The 126,170-square-foot facility, scheduled for completion in early 1988, will be located at the intersection of McGaw and Red Hill avenues, next to the existing Mazda (North America) headquarters. Company spokesmen said the availability of a site next to their headquarters location was a prime reason for placing the new facility here.
Another reason is the breezy Southern California life style. Orange County--with its growing Asian population--offers the good life in terms of climate, housing and schooling. "Consumers here tend to be trend setters," Power noted. "If (Asian auto makers) can attract employees who are taken up with this life style, it will influence their design work."
A Southern California operation "makes it much easier for Mazda to get involved in a bigger way in understanding the U.S. market," Power added.
Mazda (North America) has facilities in Flat Rock, Mich.; Chicago; Jacksonville, Fla., and San Juan, Puerto Rico.