Issue: May 2004


Drawing on Experience



Nissan design chief, Shiro Nakamura talks future strategy for Europe and the U.S.

Q. What is your overall design strategy?

A. “Our strategy is to be distinct in the segment. We want a ‘we haven’t seen this before attitude.’ We want to go beyond what the customer expects.

“With seven studios globally, how we share the goal and vision of Nissan is very critical. I want products that fit in their market segments, like the Altima, Maxima and 350Z, but they fit in with surprises.”







 
Shiro Nakamura poses in front of the Nissan Qashqai concept at the 2004 Geneva Auto Show.
Q. Not all your designs have been immediate hits. The new Armada/Infiniti QX56 and the Quest are being criticized for their odd roof lines and other design quirks. How do you feel about these models?

A. “With sport utilities like the QX56, normally the roof line is straight, but we wanted to project the iconic expression of the arc shape, like the Maxima and Altima. We wanted to capture the same idea in a bigger segment; the straight roof line is not distinctive enough. Maybe you feel uncomfortable with our shape to start with but later you may change.”

Q. Another area of criticism is Nissan interior design, which is seen as weak in quality and execution. What is your view?

A. “I have to accept the criticism regarding interiors. I think we are not as high as we should be. We have established a high level of quality on the exteriors, and if you compare our exteriors and interiors I have to admit our interiors are not as good. “But we are improving the process of design and working on the quality of interior design, and we are assigning more designers to interiors. “Originally we wanted to work on both, but unfortunately the interior effort is following the exterior. It’s not a perfect situation but it’s better than having a great interior and a poor exterior. Now that people are paying more money for Nissans, we have to meet their expectations.”
 
Q. It is harder to be adventurous with design when your volumes increase. Do you think Nissan will become less daring as it becomes more successful?
 
A. “As our company expands we may become more cautious, but it’s not our strategy. Customers are more flexible than you think.”

Q. What is your design strategy for products in the European market?
 
A. “The Murano and the Qashqai concept express what we think about the expanding crossover market. But we will still sell passenger cars like the Micra and Primera. However the biggest opportunity to grow in Europe is with the crossover vehicles.”

Q. Are European buyers more willing than Americans to accept adventurous design?

A. “They are more adventurous in accepting small cars, like the Micra, but not so much in the larger C/D segment. There they want clever, but classic design. However the crossover market is a totally new segment and those buyers are more flexible in terms of new designs.”

Q. What do you expect from the Rotunda studio?

A. “Any Nissan studio has the same philosophy — to produce some cars that are distinctive and surprising, and some that are more classic and conservative.”

Q. Do you see Europe and the U.S. coming closer together in terms of product tastes?

A. “The U.S. and European designs are getting closer but we still have some diversity between markets. For example, we don’t think the Altima would be successful in Europe. It’s a big car and the quality would have to be much higher, because a 3.5L V-6- engined passenger car here is very expensive. But in U.S. it is just a family car. So there is a lot of difference.

Q. How is Nissan design regarded in Japan?

A. “In Japan we have even more diversity of products than in Europe or the U.S. We are becoming known for advanced, unique design. We have established that reputation. By contrast Honda is losing share, while Toyota is stable. Nissan is gaining in share and volume and I credit design with that.”


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