On the 2015 Nissan Murano

This crossover is generation three for the nameplate. And while some vehicles get a less-bold design as time goes on, that’s certainly not the case with the Murano.

There is something about Nissan in the U.S. that Fred Diaz, Senior Vice President, Nissan Sales & Marketing and Operations U.S., Nissan North America, Inc., thinks ought to be more widely known. He points out that some 85% of the vehicles sold by Nissan in the U.S. are produced in North America. Like in the company’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, the original Nissan plant in the U.S., which, Diaz says, is the largest-volume plant of any OEM in the U.S., going to 650,000 units this year. (They build the Nissan Altima, Maxim, Pathfinder, LEAF, Rogue, and Infiniti QX60 in Smyrna.)

What is important to keep in mind about this is the fact that Nissan is a significant factor in automotive sales in the U.S., with, for example, its passenger car sales outpacing those of Ford. According to Autodata (motorintelligence.com), in 2014 Nissan delivered 789,898 cars in the U.S.; Ford, 762,545.

And the company’s plant in Canton, MS, is rather robust, as well. Diaz says that it is “becoming a global production hub.” The 4.2-million-ft2 facility produces an array of vehicles, eight in all, primarily trucks (Titans, NVs, and Frontiers, for example). The most notable addition to the lineup is the third-generation Murano, which had previously been built in Kyushu, Japan. Which means that the plant will be exporting the crossover utility vehicle to more than 100 markets worldwide. That’s where the “global” comes from. The transfer of the vehicle to the plant has also meant the addition of a non-trivial number of jobs, as well, approximately 1,300 of them, Diaz says.

One of the things that Nissan has been noted for of late is that its vehicles tend to have a design presence that is greater than that typical of the vehicles in the categories within which it competes.

And the Murano—from the very start of the vehicle, back in 2003—is no exception to that rule. Arguably, the Murano could be the proverbial poster child of Nissan’s design emphasis.

At the 2013 North American International Auto Show Nissan unveiled a concept car, a midsized crossover named the “Resonance.” The vehicle was developed by Nissan Design America in San Diego. Although the Resonance was presented as a hybrid vehicle, looked at purely as a styling exercise—the company’s “V-Motion” design that moves from the front grille up through the hood; boomerang-shaped headlights; B-, C- and D-pillars that contribute to a “floating-roof” effect—it is almost a blueprint for the production 2015 Murano.

But this is, in effect, as it has always been for the Murano. One of the people who worked on the vehicle is Ken Lee, senior creative manager at Nissan Design America. Lee, an Art Center graduate, says of the first-generation vehicle, “When it came out, it had a breakthrough design. It looked like a spaceship.” He had been at Ford at that time and joined Nissan shortly thereafter.

Of the 2015 car, he says, “It is the same concept car statement as the original. We pushed the ‘reset’ button.”

While the people on the engineering and marketing side of the business note that the Murano uses the NASA-technology-based “Zero Gravity” seats for both the front and second rows, Lee says that there was an aircraft inspiration that they had when developing the Murano: the early jet age of the 1960s, back when passengers were pampered and traveled in style. This was one of the aspects they were trying to achieve with the car from the V-Motion in the front to the jet-like pillars at the rear.

What is interesting about the forms achieved for the exterior of the car is how they came to be. According to Lee, instead of just sketching, the designers working on the project made quick, rough 1:10 scale models. These small 3D models allowed them to get a better send of the overall form. Yes, the design development proceeded in the conventional manner following the selection of what was to become the design, but Lee says that doing the quick modeling was helpful in getting to the final shape.

And getting back to the engineers on the team: Lee acknowledges that in order to be assured that what came out of the San Diego design studio could be made in the plant in Mississippi, they worked very closely with the engineers.