(Motor Authority) – The way automakers create cars is reversed and it’s all down to physics.
We got a taste of today’s vehicle design by sitting down with Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president of global design, at the 2022 New York Auto Show. The designer also gave us some hints about the future, including a possible electric pickup truck.
Vehicle design in the modern era has become a numbers game, according to Albaisa. Even before a vehicle is designed, a spatial volume and target drag coefficient are set in stone. It’s the marker. The rest is shaped, sculpted and designed around these numbers. It is the opposite of what it once was.
“Before, aerodynamics was something we did after having a design come up,” Albaisa said. Efficiency was almost an afterthought, but there were no volume and aerodynamic goals to design.
The process of designing a car now begins with creating a shape and setting where the nose should be. This involves the height of the front end, hood line and hood. All of this contributes to achieving the target drag coefficient for the specific vehicle. The rest comes after at this point.
This reversal of the process is not easy, the executive said, and then it becomes a battle of proportions. How does the length, width, silhouette and taper of the cabin work with the headlight shape, body size and skin (metal) shape? Some tricks appearing in mainstream family cars include holes or ducts in the front bumper to direct airflow around the front, as seen on the latest Rogue crossover SUV.
According to the veteran designer, it all has to do with width and whether the wind can get around the vehicle cleanly, and that changes from car to car. Just because a vehicle is wider doesn’t mean it needs ducts to direct the wind forward. Albaisa noted that the Pathfinder had no front ducts despite being wider than the Rogue.
Albaisa noted that the future lineup of Nissans is already being designed and installed at his studio in Japan, but he wouldn’t say how many have been fully designed.
Nissan’s pickup truck debuted in the United States in 1959 as the Datsun B-10, and it might not be hitting the end of the road anytime soon. The new frontier is the starting point for the automaker, and maybe not the endgame.
Albaisa said MY he advised his team to “start thinking, because the evolution of the van will not be like other cars”.
The executive noted that the Japanese company invented a class of small pickup trucks called “little hustlers” in the 70s and 80s. It’s part of the automaker’s iconography.
In November, Nissan has provided the first details of its comprehensive electrified plan. Four concept vehicles were part of this presentation, including a small, lifestyle-focused pickup truck called the Surf-Out. The concept featured a single-cab body with a removable canopy. The Surf-Out concept is the result of Albaisa asking his team to think about the electric future, which in his mind includes trucks.
The executive was quick to note that the concept isn’t intended for production, but rather “this little car made sense.” We’ll have to wait to see what that meaning is.
Albaisa could not comment on the place of an electric pickup truck in the automaker’s future schedule, but he said Nissan makes trucks.
In terms of retro design influences, Albaisa said the automaker would only do so when it made sense. The Ariya is a new nameplate, so it has a design of its own. If the automaker were to make a Murano EV, the executive would think of stepping back in time. “The first generation Murano was spectacular,” Albaisa said, followed by “the second was not.”
Albaisa noted that the young designers on her team were born in the 1980s and tend to be obsessed with the look of that era.
For sports car and roadster enthusiasts, Albaisa said a Fairlady (referring to the Datsun convertible built in the 1960s) could return to the electric era before quickly finding himself saying more. Nissan spokesman Dan Passe noted that once you have the EV skateboard “you can build anything”. One of those four concepts in November, dubbed the Max-Out, was a roadster. It wasn’t retro or related in any way to a Fairlady in design, but it was a roadster.
The interview did not confirm any future electric sports car plans, but did reveal that Nissan is considering an electric sports car, as well as a type of electric pickup truck.