We’ll explore the production line later, but the main reason we’ve come to Sunderland is to uncover the design process that leads from drafting-paper doodle to production car. And to help make sense of it all, we’ve brought Autocar’s in-house car designer, Ben Summerell-Youde, who creates most of the speculative renderings you see in this magazine, artfully predicting upcoming models with considerable success.
We’re focusing on the extrovert Gripz concept, which Nissan presented at the Frankfurt motor show last September to float the idea of a Z-car crossover. As with all of Nissan’s major design projects, the brief was tendered across the company’s four design hubs: Paddington, San Diego, Beijing and the creative HQ in Atsugi, Japan. Designs are submitted anonymously – the decision makers know neither the designer nor the hub that produced each proposal – but for the Gripz, the winning exterior was penned in London and references the works 240Z that won the 1971 East African Safari Rally.
The ‘performance crossover’ brief for the Gripz was relatively specific. For the 2009 Qazana concept that spawned the Juke, although the car’s size was largely fixed, the design brief was just one word: ‘Robiotic’. Which, perplexingly, isn’t even a proper word. In Paddington, the designers expanded this to ‘masculine and agile’ and developed it with the help of mood boards and imagery, such as the juxtaposition of welly boots with a Nissan GT-R. It’s easy to scoff but just as easy to see how the production Juke splices the spirit of those images and to observe how successful this formula has been in the market: more than 40,000 were sold in the UK last year.
Back on the Gripz, Paddington-based Croatian Goran Ozbolt – a vehicle design graduate of the Royal College of Art – talks us through the design process: “We start with a footprint and an idea of the height of the car. The team discusses how the product could look or feel. Then each of us goes out and explores what inspirations we could use. Sometimes, it’s something active and performance-oriented. Other times, it’s more laid back and practical. You might look for a variety of products that you think reflect the kind of thing you’re trying to produce. Then we start sketching.”
Summerell-Youde chips in that he usually has to start with the previous generation of the car, but he considers that ‘cheating’. Ozbolt disagrees. “Everyone has a different starting point,” he says. “Some people start with the car’s predecessor, but I tend to begin with a doodle, imagining what the car will look like from 100 metres away to make sure it has a good, solid stance. It doesn’t really matter, though. The important thing is the quality of the output. It’s artistic. There are no rules.”