I Love Nissan (1) - Be-1 Debut!
Nissan Be-1 ~ 1985 Tokyo Motor Show A cute car in a yellow pumpkin color, suddenly appeared at the 1985 Tokyo Motor Show. The name of this concept car was Nissan Be-1. It was an era where the car makers were promoting new cars with new technologies, such as Twin-Cam, Turbo, xx Horse Powers, Multi-link Suspensions... A concept car, simply promoting nothing more than a unique "Design", gave very fresh impression to the audience. I stood in front of this yellow Be-1, forgetting about the time flowing, simply staring at it, and feeling very very happy.
30 years after debut, the design still looks fresh, stunning, gives a wonderful impression. The exterior design and interior design based on round circles looks highly sophisticated. The debut of such car with such design at that time was shocking. Just 1 year after the debut at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Nissan Be-1 was sold at a price of 1.8 million yen (16,000 USD) with a limited production of only 10,000 units. Was sold out immediately. The car was re-sold in the used car market, and temporarily traded at twice the selling price.
It was Jun Shimizu (Product Chief, Nissan Product Division) and Takeo Shibue (GM, Nissan Design) who asked an external company called "Water Studio" led by Naoki Sakai, "Please develop a design which overturns the conventional wisdom of car design." This company was working in the fashion industry, with no experience on car design. The "fashion design" industry at that time was a new wave, like it is for IT industry today. It is amazing that a big car company in the conventional industry like Nissan, completely outsourced such task to a small fashion design company, and pushed through until realizing mass production to the market! You can notice how Nissan had a very free culture at that time. All employees had the freedom to express their opinions, make crazy proposals, do a lot without being over controlled. Nissan had an open-minded and tolerant culture. In my opinion, that was one real strength of Nissan, and was the driver of the various exciting products.
After the success of the Be-1, Nissan released various special products as "Pike Cars" series. Pao, Figaro, S-Cargo, Rasheen. Although commercially they were not necessarily profitable, Nissan took the world by storm, creating positive brand image such as "Fun", "Challenging", "Open Minded", although it was limited to the Japanese market.
BMW has acquired the British brand MINI and revived it as a solid premium brand. Fiat is also revived their round and cute brand 500 (Cinquecento) series, as a luxury compact car brand. Shouldn't Nissan take on the challenge to the premium mini territory, using the legendary Be-1 concept ? It looks like something, but doesn't look like anything, and is cute and attractive! Having the Be-1 as the representative product, maybe a sub-brand "Be" could be established, and new emotional products such as the sports car "Be-S (Sports)", SUV "Be-X (Cross)" could be developed. Why not?
I think there are two types of car brands. One of them are the "Special Shops" type represented by the European brands, and the other one are the "Department Store" types. Brand identity is most important for "Special Shops" type brands, and the "face" of all the cars looks similar, also deploys a homogeneous feeling for the overall design theme of all their products. By looking at any product of such brand, the people can recognize "This is an AUDI" "This is a BMW". Recently Japanese brand such as Mazda is also following this concept, and Nissan seems to also follow this direction, but unfortunately with a rather boring and unsophisticated image. On the other hand, "Department Store" types of brand, offers various different concepts, to people with different values. Toyota is one example, and also most of the American brands fall into this category.
At the 80th, 90th, the Nissan products were developed with passionate spirits by the designers and engineers who developed them. Each car was giving a lots of excitement to the people, and the people were buying them because they were so passionate with the product, and really loved them. All products looked different, with different concepts and images however, with each Nissan product, there was a common feeling for Nissan fans, making them feel "This is Nissan!"
Nissan was a brand like a "Makunouchi Lunch Box". A beautiful harmony, generated by many different exciting products. In my opinion, this is the DNA of Nissan.
I Love Nissan
To survive in this world of severe competition in the automotive industry, under the tough demands from the market, it is important to avoid falling into a commodity business. It is mandatory to create an "Only One" value and brand image with the products, and attract the market. Thanks to the merger with Renault, Nissan now have diverse international talents. Nissan shall introduce products with various different concepts, Nissan needs to revive some legendary products, and recover Nissan's DNA. I strongly believe this is the KEY for Nissan's revival.
I wish by heart that Nissan comes back with their original DNA, "Fun, Spiritual and Exciting". For me, Nissan is someone I had to say good-bye, despite I loved her so much. I would like to write once in a while these series "I Love Nissan", with my sketches, inspiring products of the good old days. Be-1, Sylvia / 200SX, Bluebird, Skyline, Cedric/Gloria, Fairlady Z ......