Nissan goes back to the future to electrify 1960s Silvia
Never one to resist a challenge, when Matthew Weaver, Vice President of Nissan Design Europe was asked to reimagine a car from Nissan's history for an electric future, he chose to remix the iconic Silvia CSP311.
The Silvia is one of a kind. It's a rare model that launched at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1964. It's so rare in fact, that even some of Nissan's most seasoned employees haven't seen one.
Matthew explains: "The Silvia was ahead of its time, in a very quiet, understated way. It has aged very well and would still have its place on the roads today. It's also a great example of what is expected of a global product: high quality and universally appealing.
"By re-designing this car for the future, we wanted to pay homage to that heritage. One of the most distinguishable features is the one clean line connecting the upper and lower body. In this version, we accentuated its presence even more by having a clean and sharp cut into the top of the wheel arches. Also keeping in mind the world of the future, we felt the design naturally suited being an electric vehicle."
"Being an electric vehicle, it gave us the opportunity to extend the clean surfacing around the front because an electric powertrain has far lower cooling requirements, so there is no need for a grille where radiators are traditionally located," he added.
Matthew and the team took a lot of important steps to lovingly bring the car into the modern era. He refined it, making it purer and the lines even cleaner. But the electrification of the vehicle is the pièce de résistance. It allowed Matthew to envision the use of today's innovations alongside classic design facets.
With the increasing electrification of mobility, most car designers find themselves facing the challenge of infusing the heritage of their respective brands, while also reinventing what cars can and should be. Every design starts with a blank piece of paper. Then come sketches and many 2D designs, followed by digital and 3D clay prototypes. In the age of electric cars, the designers can use the same techniques to come up with new ideas, but they can play by a whole new set of rules.
Previously, designers had to work alongside engineers to find a way to accommodate an internal combustion engine, radiators and exhaust pipe. Now, those once essential components have been replaced by battery packs, inverters and small motors. It's a big change in the daily job of a designer, but also a huge opportunity to do things differently and provide a new experience for drivers.
"The key components of an electric vehicle are quite different and they can be packaged differently, compared to an internal combustion engine car. Consequently, the Silvia we've reimagined here would have a larger interior than its exterior dimensions would suggest. Customers of the forthcoming Nissan Ariya electric crossover will really appreciate how spacious and comfortable that interior is, thanks to its efficient packaging," Matthew explained.
Today's designers have to think about new functionality and the apparatus that enables it, such as radars, cameras and sensors. But it goes deeper than that. Car designers also have to find new ways to do the same thing they've always tried to do: generate an emotional response and create a lasting connection with customers.
A smoother ride
When looking into automotive trends, no one is better placed than Marco Fioravanti, Vice President Product Planning, at Nissan Europe. He and his team have the mission to look into what customers will want and need up to 20 years from now. According to Marco, the future will see cars created through a different lens, in which efficiency is a key requirement. "Efficiency improvement is the target," notes Marco. "It is even more important for electric vehicles because at high speeds, the aerodynamics can minimise the negative impact of drag on the vehicle's range."
"So, we are seeing a new generation of electric crossovers that are slightly lower, wider and longer in order to improve the aerodynamics, while keeping a similar interior space and giving a higher seat position than a traditional sedan or hatchback. This is possible thanks to the improvements we can make to the layout of an electric vehicle to accommodate its next generation of technology," he adds.
The all-electric Nissan Ariya
Looking further ahead, who knows how customer requirements, technological advancements and legislation will affect design? One thing that is certain is that cars are changing. They will look and function differently in order to be more user friendly, energy efficient and practical. Reinventing classic cars for the modern, electrified world, even if they only start out as sketches, proves that future possibilities are endless.