Nissan’s Groundbreaking Concepts that Transformed the Brand for Over Four Decades

September 24th, 2023 by

Photo credit: Nissan

Concept vehicles play a crucial role in automotive design, giving designers unique freedom and allowing engineers to come up with technological innovation. The concept vehicles also offer the opportunity to evaluate ideas prior to series production. In celebration of 40 years of the Nissan Design America, designers were asked to reflect on the impact of iconic concepts at NDA. In the 1980s, Nissan stood out as a leader in technological innovation and futuristic design, exemplified by the groundbreaking 1983 NX-21, the first concept born at Nissan Design America. Striking aerodynamics, gull-wing style doors and a rear turbine engine adaptable to various fuel sources, the NX-21 marked a cutting-edge era in automotive design.

Horne Patel, senior manager of Exterior Design at Nissan Design America (NDA), joined in 2001 and shared experience with the original NX-21 team. Patel praised the NX-21’s balance of quality, affordability and technology that influenced the future Nissan designs. Concepts like the NX-21 allows the brand to really use their imagination and create vehicles that the world has yet to see. 

In the 1990s, following the end of the Nissan 300ZX in the U.S. in 1996 fans became eager to know the future of the iconic sports car. Later down the road in 1999 the Z concept was revealed at the Detroit Auto Show. Bruce Campbell, former Vice President of NDA stated that the automaker focused on the interior design, using lightweight materials to keep the total weight of the vehicle low. Nissan made its message clear, the automaker was focused on producing world-class sports cars. Although the Z Concept was not the direct visual basis for the 350Z launched in 2003, its principles lived on in the production vehicle, conveying a clean and simple gesture. Campbell said that “ Nissan was not done with the Z” hinting that fans would see it in the future.

Sometimes an automotive concept is not just intended to provide a preview of a production vehicle, but to set an entire design direction. This was evident with INFINITI’s striking Essence concept, unveiled at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. Giovanny Arroba, Senior Design Director, recalls how the dramatic lines of stringed instruments inspired his first sketch for this concept. Although he designed the exterior of the Essence while working at NDA, his influence paved the path for designers to come. One of the first designers to use elements such as the double-arched grille and crescent-shaped rear side windows which were incorporated into production vehicles in the 2010s. This legacy illustrates the lasting impact a concept car can have on a brand’s aesthetic and its ability to anticipate the future of design, as does the recently revealed QX Monograph concept, 14 years later.

To reinvent the Rogue in the late 2010s, Nissan turned to the Xmotion concept as a glimpse into the brand’s future design. Under the direction of Lars Taubert, this concept fused Japanese tradition with boldness and excitement, bringing to life elements such as striking fenders, U-shaped headlights and the distinctive V-motion grille that now characterizes the Rogue. Concepts, according to Taubert, are communication tools that allow designers to showcase their creative process and convey their visions to consumers. The Xmotion, which helped mold the third-generation Rogue, also left its mark on other Nissan vehicles, underscoring the pivotal role of concept cars in the brand’s design strategy. Ready to join the Nissan family?

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