One of the biggest car manufacturers on the planet, Nissan is a household name thanks to its quirky and recognisable designs. But how do they keep making these lovely-looking vehicles look so lovely? Could it be the British influence? Vanarama Content Editor Tom Roberts takes a look.
Nissan just seems to get good design. Maybe it's because they refuse to let their vehicles be lumped into single flavours that makes them capable of creating such interesting vehicles. It could be because they use the simple design slogan "Innovation that excites" as a loose guideline to let imaginations run wild in the design department. Or maybe it's something about where the designs get put on paper and built. Whatever it is, it's working – Nissan is firmly in the global top ten car manufacturers, and its vehicles are hugely popular.
Its presence in Europe is also comprehensive, with over 17,000 staff based on the continent. But perhaps most relevant to the thrust of this article is that some of the company's best vehicles are produced right here in the UK at the Nissan Sunderland Plant. While we're on that, in the wake of June 2016's Brexit vote, the company eventually decided to keep the plant open, much to the relief of the 7,000 locally-based employees stationed there and the UK in general.
But surely that's where the British influence ends, the vehicles are surely designed overseas and the plans just sent over to be made real? Oh no, Nissan's European Design Centre is located in Paddington, London. And its European Technical Centre? It's based in Cranfield, Bedfordshire! Would it surprise you to know that, in 2014, one in every three cars built in the UK was a Nissan? It certainly made me stop and think for a minute.
Quirky by design
I want to focus on Nissan's Qashqai and Juke models as prime examples of the company's design spirit – both were designed by the team in London, and the Qashqai was actually the first the team ever tackled. But before we focus in on those two vehicles, let's take a look at Nissan's global design philosophy to see if that sheds any light on whether the British influence has any impact.
Nissan's Executive Design Director, Mamoru Aoki, says the slogan for the Nissan brand is "Innovation that excites", and adds that the company has "steadily provided cars that excite and move people, and has continually thrown its hat into the ring of newly-emerging categories". That it has, and the Qashqai and Juke are clearly born from this desire to innovate and excite – just look at them.
Mamoru comments that Nissan uses design to cement in place "a common essence of the Nissan brand in all our vehicles, while also giving them strikingly innovative images". I'll admit to being slightly confused by this comment at first, because it seems so contradictory, and even Mamoru himself admits this approach has not been easy. "But it is the approach Nissan will continue to take," he stresses.
Contradiction in practice
As contradictory as it might sound, however, just look at the two vehicles I've picked out: the Qashqai is labelled a "crossover" because it's neither pure 4x4 or pure SUV despite being both. And the Juke is so hard to peg that it's been labelled an "alternative supermini" – neither city car, SUV or 4x4 – purely because any other name wouldn't fit.
They epitomise being recognisably Nissan and at the same time not looking like they're trying to be. They even look slightly similar, but not…maybe it's the headlights, or the curves. But they sort of do. It's so brilliantly quirky that the more I think about Nissan vehicles, the more I'm convinced the way they look can only be down to the British influence!
There's always been something undefinable about the things we might call "British". Is it because it brings up images of bowler hats, sea fronts, cityscapes, rivers, trees, fields and chips? Maybe, or is it something else? I'm not suggesting that the British own "quirky", but we're certainly seen as eccentric.
Perhaps it's that eccentricity somehow seeping into the designs that's making Nissan's cars look so good. Or perhaps in the same way London is a leader in the fashion industry, thanks to energetic designers constantly pushing the boundaries, that has rubbed off on Nissan's design team. British fashion is a worldwide export, treasured for its eccentricity, and maybe Nissan's cars are the same.
It's all about WHO you know
YouGov's Profiles site sheds a little more light on WHO drives the Qashqai, and it's not what you might think. It reckons the average driver is 55-year-old man who lives in the North West, leans politically to the left, and loves travel. He also loves his pets, playing pool, watching Rugby League, and is open-minded about homeopathy and other alternative medicines.
The Juke is a different – but quirkily similar – story. The average Juke driver is a 55-year-old woman living in the North West, who leans politically to the right, and loves civil service. They put family at the top of their interests, alongside women's issues and animal welfare, and think billboards are the best way to find out about new film releases and events.
But what do these things tell us? On the one hand, they show that our expectations of who would go for a particular type of car can be miles away from reality. And that Nissan's designs have an incredibly wide appeal. If our experience is anything to go by, we do have customers that fit these averages and who did indeed choose a Juke or Qashqai. But we also have plenty of customers who don't.
In the end, it's safe to say that Nissan's vehicles have something that continues to keep them at the top of the sales charts. But don't be fooled into thinking Nissan is all about style over substance. They're not. Look inside the Qashqai and the Juke and you'll see enough space for families, luggage, shopping, golf clubs. They're reliable too – the British-made hallmark is difficult to ignore – and boast good safety records and competitive running costs. They're also a steal at their prices – for a modest investment you get vehicles that are so much more than the sum of their parts.
If you ask me though, it's all about the sweeping headlights, but ask someone else and they might say it's the curves. Either way, it's likely the British-made reliability and trustworthiness is actually what plays a big part in their success worldwide.
Maybe that's what it is…what do you think?