Nissan: Refining Design, Taking Aim at the Entry Level

TALKING SENTRAThe Sentra is the car that completes the first round of Nissan’s design revival, which restarts with the introduction of the revised 2007 Altima sedan in mid-‘06.


The Sentra is the car that completes the first round of Nissan’s design revival, which restarts with the introduction of the revised 2007 Altima sedan in mid-‘06. Unlike the Altima and Maxima, the Sentra was designed in California. “We did the Sentra from start to finish in the U.S.,” says Shiro Nakamura, senior v.p., Design Director, Nissan. “There was no involvement from Japan, except for my oversight.” It was not an easy birth, however, since the car reportedly went back to the designers after the original was found lacking in consumer clinics. Some-where along the way, the “conversation” had broken down. 

“The design process is like a conversation,” says Nakamura. “We make a first proposal with preliminary packaging information to get something on paper quickly, and then take the more accurate information as it becomes available.” Nakamura’s designers may ask for alterations to the overhangs, track or other dimensions–“It’s not as though they give us the packaging and say, ‘do it’,” he says–a process that may take as many as six months before the final layout is set. “Then it takes another 12 months to freeze the design, and there are no major changes at the end of that 18-month design cycle.” There may be alterations made based on the clinic results, he remarks, “but that’s the extent of the changes we are willing to make. Unless the car does not clinic well, has a quality or some other outside problem, there are no changes once the design is set. None.” It’s a discipline Nissan Design has to follow if the 10 to 12 projects heading toward production each year are to reach the market on time. “Over the six years we have introduced these many models,” Nakamura says, “the process has become even more precise. Otherwise you waste the energy and money you hoped to save. You have to be very efficient. The freeze is the freeze.”



Carlos Ghosn proved the seriousness of the Urge project when he said, “Are we interested in a relatively affordable sports car at Nissan? Yes.” Reportedly, firms specializing in low-volume production are being asked to bid on developing the Urge while working in tandem with the Nissan Technical Center in Farmington Hills, MI. It’s highly unlikely the production version will have the concept’s built-in Xbox 360 that uses the steering wheel and pedals as game controls, but the rest of the vehicle points to the car Nissan wants to produce: an affordable front-engine/rear-drive lightweight minimalist sports car (target weight is 2,400 lb.) for first-time buyers. A decision is set for the third quarter of 2006 with production slated for 2009.



Just as the new Sentra signals the end of Nissan’s first design cycle since its much-publicized revival, the G Concept marks the start of Infiniti’s next rotation. More driver oriented than its predecessor, the next G increases the separation between Nissan and Infiniti vehicles and originates from the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan, whereas the current production G Coupe began as a design concept in California. Says Nakamura: “The interior of an Infiniti is much more of a cockpit than a Nissan, which has more open space and more of an expression of spaciousness. The Infiniti also is more ‘authentic’ in its shapes, while Nissan is more geometric.” Though it’s possible to discern similarities between today’s Nissan and Infiniti interiors, the next round will increase the separation between the brands by using unique gauge clusters, switchgear, and steering wheels. “There will be more similarity and carryover within brands, but not between them,” says Nakamura.