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What makes Nissan an innovative company?

Nissan Innovation logoNissan Innovation 15/10/2014

Nissan has been at the forefront of engineering innovation for more than eighty years – so what’s the key to its success?

Nissan Safety Shield technologies are the "building blocks" to autonomous driving, according to Masurel © Nissan Nissan Safety Shield technologies are the "building blocks" to autonomous driving, according to Masurel With around 142,000 global sales since its launch in 2010, the Nissan LEAF is officially the world’s best-selling electric vehicle (EV). But Nissan's relationship with innovation goes beyond just electric vehicles - consider the company's ground-breaking NISMO division, which 'brings race track performance and advanced car technology to the street' or its development of Safety Shield technologies - a series of advanced features that make drivers aware of potential dangers like never before, and you begin to understand why innovation really is the driving force behind the company's success.

Nissan's first venture into EV goes all the way back to 1947. The Tama was introduced at a time when gasoline was scarce in Japan but electricity readily available, and remained in use until 1950. It had a top speed of 22 miles per hour and a range 60 miles per charge, while the front-opening "alligator" hood, unusual for Japanese cars at the time, went on to become a standard feature of production automobiles.

Almost seventy years on Nissan remains at the forefront of innovation in the automotive industry. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with the company’s history. Ever since it was founded in 1928 by Yoshisuke Aikawa, new ideas and fresh thinking have fuelled its progress. Guillaume Masurel, Marketing Director at Nissan Motor GB, says that’s partly because innovation is “in the DNA” of Japanese culture, but also due to the fact that “Nissan has always tried to do things a bit differently and in a more challenging way to bring new solutions to its customers.”

With recent successes like the Qashqai, Juke and X-Trail, Nissan effectively created an entirely new market: the crossover vehicle, which combines the low running costs, comfortable suspension and practicality of a traditional car with some SUV characteristics. Masurel believes these hugely successful cars highlight Nissan’s continuing capacity for challenging conventions, while also “keeping an eye on what the customer needs and what we can do differently to be more in line with that.”

One of the company’s major goals is a world with virtually no traffic accidents leading to death or serious injury – an ideal that has driven its impressive work on vehicular safety features. It developed its first Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESV) in 1971, and has since won huge acclaim for its Safety Shield suite of technologies, which monitor an almost 360-degree view of the vehicle, warning the driver of potential hazards and if necessary helping them to take action.

In the near future, even more innovative technologies will also be available for Nissan vehicles. While those of you who aren’t keen on washing your car will be delighted to hear that the company is also working on the world’s first self-cleaning car, which uses cutting-edge nano-paint technology to repel dirt.

The Nissan LEAF is officially the world’s best-selling electric vehicle (EV) © Nissan The Nissan LEAF is officially the world’s best-selling electric vehicle (EV) Quickly pushing these kinds of innovative technologies down throughout the range is a key part of Nissan’s ethos. “We always try to bring a premium segment of innovation into a more mainstream segment, and make these innovative features more accessible to customers,” says Masurel. He calls the company’s Safety Shield technologies the “building blocks” of autonomous driving, noting that Nissan plans to have commercially viable autonomous drive vehicles on the road by 2020. Prototypes are able to detect road and driving conditions and automatically operate the car's main controls, including steering, braking and acceleration. They can even merge into traffic and change lanes – all while maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles.

EVs are, of course, the other big focus for the company. The much-anticipated Nissan e-NV200 electric van launched in July this year, building on the success of the Nissan LEAF. “Taking the electric car to mass market has obviously been a big challenge,” says Masurel. “But it’s about trying to push the boundaries to give more to our customers; when you think about electric cars, you have to think about everything differently.”

With that in mind Nissan is exploring possibilities for using EVs as an alternative power source. Successful trials of its “Vehicle-To-Building” technology, which allows up to six Nissan LEAFs to be connected to a building’s power supply, have already been carried out in Japan. Power is drawn from the cars during peak electricity hours, and sent the other way when rates are cheaper.

NISMO, Nissan’s motorsports and performance division, recently developed the world’s first 100% electric track-ready racecar too – the LEAF NISMO RC. A NISMO concept smartwatch that provides drivers with real-time biometric and vehicle performance data has also been developed by the legendary division. And in 2012, Nissan invited fans at the Chicago Auto Show to help build the world’s first crowd-sourced car, an enhanced version of the 370Z.

According to Masurel this kind of collaboration – both with customers and with other innovative companies like Microsoft – is a key part to driving innovation itself. He also looks forward to seeing what MSN users dream up as part of Nissan and Microsoft’s Project Innovation project, which invites people to submit their ideas and ‘co-ideate’ for new motoring technology. “Co-ideation is really about looking outside and listening to customers,” he says. “It’s important to think almost without boundaries in terms of what connected cars mean, and to have some fresh pair of eyes involved in that process will be very interesting for us.”

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