All in the family

LA JOLLA, Calif. — Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is trying to start a family.

When Carlos Ghosn took control of the company in 1999, he gave its designers a difficult task: Create vehicles that look like they’re made by the same company but appeal to a wide spectrum of buyers.

“We’re trying to come up with a naturally evolving design identity that’s carefully seen to and shepherded by the design managers within Nissan,” Semple said. “The idea is to support the corporate identity through the design identity, through the products.”

When it comes to tangibles, Nissan is just now working out what elements it will carry from one vehicle to the next — family traits, so to speak.

“Sometimes things will be more prescriptive than others,” Semple said. “There will be perhaps certain lamp shapes. Or like how a grille form is treated — something like that. There will be elements that will have some consistency and continuity from one to the other.”

Demographic challenges

At the same time, Nissan designers are challenged to make their designs fit the demographics of their vehicles. For instance, a person shopping for Nissan’s full-sized pickup, due in the 2004 model year, may have ruggedness and strength in mind. Whereas someone shopping for the company’s next Z sports coupe will look for something sleek and sporty.

So lenience is in order.

“We’re not a boutique company,” Semple said. “We have a much broader range than the German companies who tend to have a very rigid set of parameters about their surface development and their general overall look. We don’t want to do that.”

What do they want to do? Bruce Campbell, Nissan Design America’s director of design, said Nissan studios in Japan, North America and Europe communicated with each other to find out what would define “Nissanness.” And, although Nissan is looking to make a new beginning, it pulled out its archives.

“We looked to the past, picked out about a dozen products that were significant to Nissan from a design point of view and really studied them,” Campbell said. The 12 vehicles included cars such as the 300ZX, the Micra and the Infiniti J30.

Searching for DNA

“We came out with a list of adjectives that we try to employ in thinking about each design,” Campbell said. “There was a little struggle with the words — but it really helped us in the struggle for searching for DNA.”

Some of the words the designers wound up with translated from Japanese to mean “clean,” “pure” and “devoid of decoration,” Campbell said. And when putting those words into shapes, Nissan designers will have the freedom to alter design components.

“We’ve got a general set of guidelines that we would try to incorporate,” Campbell said. “The grille shape itself would not be the same. It’s more general than grille shape, though that would be part of it.

“We have the license to be different from one way to the next.”

Nissan designers have not developed a hard and fast definition for Nissan DNA. But they have started to show signs of the new design direction. After the Altima, the next vehicle in the “family” will be the Z, followed by a redesigned Quest.

From completed projects, Campbell said Nissan DNA has predominantly to do with the vehicle’s front end.

“The definition of our DNA will be front-end aspect,” he said. “It might be a grille accented by fog lamps, flanked by a lower grille. At this point, there are no set guidelines at the rear.”

Campbell also said there would be some things that customers don’t notice, but will be part of Nissan DNA.

Said Campbell: “There are some subtleties that the public won’t catch offhand, such as the coloring of the taillamps. But it’s not as prescriptive as shape and size and color. Some of the detailing will be as you see them on today’s Altima — a little bigger, a little more predominant.”

Tags: Nissan

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