HIRATSUKA, Japan -- The electric Nissan Land Glider will be one of the weirdest concept vehicles to come out of this week's Tokyo Motor Show, but Nissan Motor Co. is dead serious about it.
The Land Glider is about 43 inches wide. The wheels and fenders tilt, allowing the car to lean as it goes around curves in the road.
Company insiders say the concept is under serious study for the automaker's luxury Infiniti brand lineup in global markets, including the United States.
“This is our second phase of electric-vehicle design,” said Takashi Nakajima, director of exploratory design for Nissan. Nakajima discussed the concept car before the opening of the Tokyo show at a new Nissan design exhibition at the Hiratsuka City Museum, an hour's drive from Tokyo.
The narrow two-seater suggests an enclosed motorcycle with a glass dome ceiling. The Land Glider uses individual electric motors positioned above its axles to allow the car to lean 17 degrees while cornering. The tilting body keeps the narrow vehicle stable while taking curves at full speed.
Just want to park
The concept was born in 2007 when a 30-year-old Nissan product planning manager named Ryusuke Hayashi was frustrated by his inability to find a parking space in Tokyo.
“I thought, if only my car was narrower, it would be easier to park,” recalled Hayashi, now product planning manager of the concept. “As a product planner, I wanted the car to be even narrower than what you see now. But our engineers decided it would be safer to drive if we made it a little wider.”
The car is 43 inches wide and 122 inches long, or roughly the size of some dining room tables.
Technically, the Land Glider is a two-seater, but not in the traditional sense.
There is one seat in the driver's cockpit and a second small seat behind it. But Nissan engineers are working out real-world rear-impact technical issues that might mean the second seat will disappear.
If an electric Infiniti one-seater seems a bit far out, Nakajima said his exploratory design is intended to look five to 10 years into the future at emerging market trends. But he also noted that the market is changing rapidly.
“In the past five years, we were doing a lot of exploratory work on electric-vehicle concepts. And now today, we have a Leaf production car,” he pointed out.
Nissan dealers in selected U.S. markets will begin retailing the five-passenger electric Leaf late next year. Nissan is spending $2 billion to launch Leaf mass production in Smyrna, Tenn., along with the construction of a lithium ion battery plant there.
For the past year, Nissan executives have waged a public information campaign to prepare U.S. consumers for electric vehicles. The automaker also has been enlisting cities, states and utility companies to begin investing in public electric-vehicle recharging networks.
But while the Leaf is an attempt to appeal to America's core auto market for family cars, the Land Glider concept is clearly envisioning a different segment.
Nakajima said the concept could be an answer for older consumers who want to drive a motorcycle. “Maybe they feel like a motorcycle isn't safe,” he said. “This would satisfy the concerns of their family.
“We want to position this car to be competitive against these alternatives.”
Hayashi thinks that parking problems in crowded cities such as Tokyo and Los Angeles will spur interest in the concept.
“We are presenting the concept in Tokyo, but there was no specific city in mind when we created the car,” Hayashi said. “I just wanted a car that was easy to park.”