|Cutting a cute profile behind Nissan executive Carlos Ghosn is the Jikoo, one of seven concept cars he rolled out at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show. He announced an industry-leading operating profit margin of 11.3 percent for the first half of the year, a figure that has risen for four consecutive years.
Strictly hidden from public view until the curtain rose on the 37th Tokyo Motor Show in October, Nissan’s most exclusive concept car of the year spun into view. Behind the wheel of the shiny silver two-seater was Carlos Ghosn, president and chief executive, accompanied by a lady in a shimmering silver kimono.Modeled on the original 1935 Datsun Roadster, the Jikoo is a concept like no other: its luxury interiors and exterior finishes were specially created by Japanese craftsmen whose skills descend from the Edo period (1603-1867). This, Nissan says, is a straightforward way to show that its brand identity is rooted in the “Japanese DNA.”
For example, door trims are made of lacquer and karakami, Japanese paper often used in sliding doors. Other handcrafted parts include parquet flooring composed of ebony and kingwood and seats covered with Inden (stenciled and lacquered deerskin). Making the overfenders required especially painstaking effort, says Kazuki Ishihara, a designer at Creative Box Inc., the Nissan subsidiary in charge of Jikoo design. For that area, they turned to a master silver craftsman.
After unveiling two more luxury cars featuring Japanese designs, Ghosn announced, “I am excited to begin our presentation in a manner that recognizes our company’s rich Japanese heritage. The Jikoo neatly presents the spirit that distinguishes our past and heralds our future.”
The Tokyo-based carmaker cites the 400th anniversary of the start of the Edo period coinciding with its own 70th anniversary as reasons for creating the Jikoo. But it is also the product of Nissan’s continuing search for its own identity, which has been the key to its recovery from 30 years of declining market share. Japan’s leading carmaker in the 1970s with one-third of the Japanese market, it had slipped to claim less than one-fifth in 1999.
Koji Nagano, general manager of Nissan’s Design Center and leader of the Jikoo team, says, “We have realized that the more we expand our markets in the international arena, the more important it becomes to have our own originality. The trigger to the search for ‘Japanese DNA’ was the alliance with our French partner Renault nearly four years ago. Strengthening our brand identity became our prime task.”
Association with a foreign entity forced Nissan to think about how to differentiate itself from its new partner. The answer was simple: capitalize on over 2,000 years of heritage and traditions developed and nurtured in its home country. Toshiyuki Shimazaki, manager of the Design Strategy Group at the Design Center confides, “I think that French people, in general, have a deep appreciation for history and culture. Mr. Ghosn encourages Nissan to be Japanese.” Born in Brazil, educated in France, and with career experience in Brazil, the United States, Europe, and Japan, Ghosn knows how to compete in the international arena.
In fact, the Jikoo’s “home team”–Creative Box–operates in just such an international atmosphere. It frequently hires designers from many European countries. Their strong appreciation of Japanese aesthetics was stimulated in the international working environment.
Nagano and Ishihara, who laid out the Jikoo design, are both confident that the concept car can explore new possibilities for Nissan’s future luxury cars. “Jikoo is our first experiment in adopting Japanese traditional crafts into classy cars,” Nagano continues with passionate eyes. “We strongly feel the need to revitalize Japanese traditions in our modern life. We must find new ways to use them. If you take a look at Inden, for example, you see handbags and wallets made of deerskin and lacquer that have huge potential as a world-class brand. It’s just that the designs don’t fit contemporary taste.”
At the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan clearly showed where it wants to go and what it wants to be. With a name abbreviated from Nihon Sangyo, literally meaning “Japanese industry,” the company will assuredly build its brand identity by further capitalizing on its “Japanese DNA”.
Jikoo is a small, prestigious open-top two-seater that expresses the spirit of challenge and sporty tradition that have distinguished Nissan since its establishment. The design motif was inspired by the Datsun Roadster that was rolled out in 1935 soon after Nissan was founded. In the course of creating Jikoo, Nissan participated in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s project to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Edo Shogunate and focused attention on the tangible and intangible assets represented by traditional industrial arts handed down over the years to the present. Jikoo design boldly draws upon the techniques and materials passed on continuously from the traditional artisans of Edo (Tokyo’s former name).
Challenge of rediscovery and creation in an exterior form symbolic of history and time Jikoo has been executed in a minimal body size, with a dash of modern practicality added to the original form of the Datsun Roadster that debuted in 1935. Jikoo inherits the high and long nose, short deck, two-seater layout and open-top silhouette that distinguished the original model. Jikoo also continues the Datsun Roadster’s jump seat, which was a unique feature of roadsters in those days. On Jikoo it is called the ‘Karakuri Seat’ after the concept of an ingenious mechanism that was developed as an Edo Period technology. In addition, the space afforded by the long nose is utilized for the ‘Karakuri Box,’ a two-level storage compartment that can be opened separately from either side of the car. On the inside, the upper and lower levels of the storage compartment are finished in ebony and an Edo fine pattern, respectively.
A cockpit loaded with advanced technologies in a stylish, urbane interior hinting at a new age Inspired by the dashboard in the original Datsun Roadster, the instrument panel is rendered in a simple fan-shaped surface construction that incorporates cylindrical instruments. Composed of three layers arranged longitudinally, the monitor is capable of displaying lots of information efficiently in a three-dimensional, easy-to-understand format. The monitor also incorporates new methods of expression, including the use of laser pointers for the meter needles. In addition to showing information related to driving, this multi-layer display also has an entertainment navigation function. Besides showing maps of Tokyo from the Edo Period to the present, the display also presents information about historical events, culture and traditions to provide a driving experience resembling a type of virtual time machine.
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