After keeping a low profile at several U.S. auto shows in recent years, Nissan Motor Co. is mounting a full-blown return to the spotlight at next week's Detroit auto show -- complete with the release of a new show fragrance the brand hopes will become its trademark smell.
The specially crafted aroma -- labeled thé vert oriental in French -- evokes the smell of green tea "during Chinese spring harvest" and will emanate from a flashy, newly designed interactive display that Nissan is unveiling in Detroit.
Nissan hopes that the "brand smell" will be such a hit with auto show visitors around the country that its U.S. retailers will agree to use the fragrance in their showrooms, says Erich Marx, the brand's director for interactive and social-media marketing.
"We're hoping our dealers will embrace it," Marx says. "We'll be measuring the reception."
He said a global team has been plotting both the new aroma and how to make a big, return splash at a series of 2013 shows. Nissan, the U.S. market's fifth most popular brand, pulled out of Detroit's international show in January 2009 when the economy crashed. Nissan opted for a quieter presence at shows in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
It also missed the main Detroit show floor in 2010, operating a salon outside the hall instead, and staged smaller Detroit displays in 2011 and 2012.
"We stepped away a few years ago," Marx says. "We're back now. We want to be the must-see booth at the show. This is an acknowledgment that auto shows are an important way to make a statement about who we are.
"The timing is important," he says. "We've launched five important vehicles in 15 months and we want to be able to show them off in way that does them justice."
The new booth, designed by the trade show marketing firm George P. Johnson Co., will feature a 150-foot long "halo" with built-in lighting effects that hovers above a multi-level booth. One wall of the stand will be an interactive display powered by xBox Kinnect, showcasing Nissan vehicle technology.
The stand is modular in construction, allowing Nissan to use smaller versions of it at smaller shows. The exhibit includes a heritage center to show the company's history in auto innovation, and a merchandise area to display Nissan accessories and brand collectibles, such as die cast model cars.
Marx says the company is considering opening up the merchandise center to actual retail sales to consumers at shows. But that decision will be made after the Detroit show.