GENEVA – Now that Mazda Motor Corp.’s vehicles are starting to look like a family, it's time to give them their own personalities, says Moray Callum, general manager-Mazda Design Div.

"There was a concerted effort a few years ago to try and consolidate the design into a recognizable Mazda look, and I think that really has been successful," says Callum in an interview at the Geneva auto show (see related story: Mazda Looks to Keep Ball Rolling in Europe).

"We wanted to send a message that Mazda is a brand that has a set of products that are very competent, very recognizable. Now that we've got consolidation, the next step is (how to start) branching out from there. The RX-8 is an example. It is quietly different from the rest of the vehicles, but there's still a connection there," he says.

Callum arrived at Mazda 18 months ago, after seven years in Dearborn with Ford Motor Co.’s car and truck studios. Earlier, he worked for Ghia in Italy, PSA Peugeot Citroen and DaimlerChryler AG in the U.K. Most of Callum's work has been on cars that have not yet reached production.

RX-8 will displace Miata roadster as Mazda’s new icon.

"When I got there, the Mazda6 and RX-8 were more or less finished, and I think people were aware that that was going somewhere,” Callum says. “They wanted someone who would continue the momentum but also try and help to find the next evolution or the next evolution after that."

Mazda also has launched production of the Mazda2 in Europe, based on the Ford Fiesta, and at Geneva showed the MX Sportif concept, which is close to the Mazda 323 successor and likely to be known as the Mazda3.

Mazda Chairman Lewis Booth tells Ward's at Geneva that "six more vehicles – concepts and production models – will be rolled out in Tokyo, Frankfurt, Detroit and Geneva over the next year" (see related story: Mazda Poised for Comeback – Again).

The RX-8, which goes on sale in Japan in April, will be Mazda’s new icon, says Callum, although the Miata roadster will continue to be important to Mazda's image.

"The roadster is an all-powerful force in Mazda, and it will always be appreciated as one of our major icons globally,” he says. “The RX-8 may be the new icon, but I think that a lot of people still don't recognize the RX-8. In some places, we're known as the Miata company. To be honest, I'd rather that than something else.

“I think it's (Miata) helped sustain people's belief in Mazda's ability to design exciting products. It's a car that epitomizes what Mazda does best, and we try to translate that into all our cars – Miata's uniqueness as a product, but also that it is a fun car to drive, which is really Mazda."

While staying close to the fun promised by its “Zoom-Zoom” tagline, a U.S. catchphrase that became Mazda’s global slogan when then-president Mark Fields introduced it at the 2001 Tokyo auto show, Mazda believes it can continue to make large cars.

"There are ways of translating what is right about Mazda into these larger vehicles," says Callum. "I think there is potential for Mazda to do larger cars, and more luxurious, but I think we need to temper and direct our design and concept of our vehicles in the right way."

However, Mazda will not attempt to start a luxury brand, as it tried a decade ago with the Amati. "Mazda wasn't big enough to achieve that," he admits. "It was the time when the Lexus was created and Infiniti was created, and Mazda wanted to follow.”

The auto maker since has learned to take change slowly. “The products we see today will be the stepping stones to the next stage,” says Callum. “Whether we go to luxury derivatives or different derivatives, I think still needs to be decided. But we need to take the right steps with the platforms we've got and build from those.

“If, in the future, we go more luxurious, it's certainly not outside of our heritage, but there's no intention to do that."

In its home market, Mazda has eliminated four of the different brands it used a decade ago and now makes only Mazda. It has continued to badge the 323, which is being replaced in autumn by the Mazda3, as a Ford Laser Lidea in Japan.

“But we're getting away from that. I think it is brand confusion," says Callum. Mazda will continue to use Ford components and platforms, and Ford will use Mazda engines, "but only time will tell," if Ford will use any Mazda platforms, he says.

Future Mazdas will emphasize flexibility. Customers today expect more from their car: more space, more flexibility, more ability to have different configurations in the car.

"We are constantly told that storage is very important, storage of every kind of item possible,” says Callum. “Flexibility of seating is very important, and it means different things in different countries.

“In Japan, flexible seating means, 'I want to configure the car so my friends can sit in different locations in the car, or so they can face each other.' A lot of people see their vehicle as another room, so the room needs to be as spacious and as flexible as a room at home.

"In the U.S., flexible seating means, 'I want to fold the seats flat, so I can put some lumber in the back.' The more opportunity you give the customer to use the car in different ways is without a doubt a plus for future cars."