How I Designed The World’s Leading Electric Car
02/10/2017  Robert Bright, commercial tech writer

New Nissan LEAF 100% Electric 

Satoru Tai, one of the most influential car designers in the world, talks
about the future of EVs.

Satoru Tai, Nissan’s Executive Design Director, has penned some of the most
iconic and distinctive car designs on the road.

Whether it’s the indomitable MICRA, the futuristic QASHQAI, the iconic CUBE
or Nissan’s world-beating electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF, Satoru-Tai’s
design DNA shines through.

His passion for driving, encyclopedic knowledge of automotive manufacture,
and sensitivity to the changing role of the car in the 21st Century all work
to create designs that combine the classical, experimental and pragmatic.
It’s what makes him one of the most famous car designers in the world.

[image]  Satoru Tai, Nissan’s Executive Design Director

We met Satoru Tai to talk about one of the most important redesigns in
Nissan’s history, namely the new incarnation of the Nissan LEAF, which comes
seven years after the car’s original launch.

In those seven years, it’s gone on to become the most successful electric
vehicle in the world, what you might call ‘the people’s EV’. Satoru Tai is
the man behind the new design, and for him the Nissan LEAF has given him an
opportunity to rewrite the rulebook. “The car is much freer in terms of
design,” he says, “with more innovative, challenging styling.”

Satoru Tai has wanted to be a car designer nearly all his life, but can he
remember the moment when he first saw it as a potential future for him? “No,
not exactly,” he says. “But I love cars from childhood and I was thinking,
‘someone, somewhere is designing these things, so why couldn’t I?’”

Certainly by the time he graduated from university, Satoru Tai was entirely
focussed on becoming a car designer. He joined Nissan, working first as a
designer of interiors, then exteriors, an apprenticeship that eventually led
to him overseeing entire design projects, able to stamp his vision on the
Nissan brand.

“It’s been about 35 years at the company, so a long, long history. Back then
I was a real car guy, buying sports cars, modifying them and driving them
very fast.”

That boy-racer passion can be seen in stunning designs like the Z32 Fairlady
Z and the R35 GT-R, and it’s still clearly visible in the new Nissan LEAF,
which is a more muscular design than its predecessor.

“With the original Nissan LEAF the keywords might have been ‘stylish’ and
‘modern’. Now they’re ‘sleeker’ and ‘quiet but dynamic’. I think it’s a more
balanced car. We did a lot of work on the aerodynamics but there’s a harmony
between the elements,” he enthuses.

There are also design touches that mark it out as an EV. Satoru Tai points
to the blue grille. “This symbolises the car in some way,” he says. “An EV
doesn’t need a big mouth to inhale air, so the grille acts as a kind of
symbol, both of Nissan and the EV.”
New Nissan LEAF 100% Electric

In 2010, the Nissan LEAF was a game-changer for EVs. But a lot can happen in
seven years, and it now finds itself with more competition on the roads.

“This impacts on own brand,” says Satoru Tai. “One of our rival’s styling is
very aggressive, very futuristic, for example. Another keeps a very familiar
shape. All these things influence us, of course. The Nissan LEAF is a very
advanced design but at the same time more democratic.”

“There are huge changes happening, and lots of companies are trying
different hypotheses with EVs,” continues Satoru Tai. “Obviously with the
new Nissan LEAF we have made improvements to things like the battery, but
with the original and this one we were also thinking about the future, about
automatic driving, AI, that sort of thing. It’s a very exciting period,
things can go in many different ways.”

For designers, EVs present new challenges and opportunities. “We can
basically put the battery anywhere, and the electric motor is small enough
to lay out the fundamentals of the car differently,” says Satoru Tai. But
looking further into the future, it’s the convergence between the EV
revolution and the self-driving revolution that will lead to radical change.

“I strongly think that from now on the interior of cars will become more and
more important,” he says. “Think about how TVs used to be a huge box but now
they’re getting thinner and thinner. I think the same kind of thing will
happen with EVs. Up to now we’ve needed space for many mechanical things,
but in the future we will be able to maximise the size of the vehicle.”

What self-driving means is that the interior will become more about the
experience of the space itself. Essentially, your car becomes another room,
another place where you work and play. Satoru Tai has an interesting
comparison here, namely the live concert. “It’s a bit old perhaps, but I
remember seeing Roger Waters’ The Wall concert film. Watching it I was
shocked by the combination of music, stage, lights – the whole spectacle. If
you can somehow translate that kind of total experience into the car

As for the here and now, Satoru Tai’s new Nissan LEAF design looks set to
keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, subtly changing our
perception of EVs and their potential. For the man who sometimes thinks of
car design in terms of stadium rock, this one looks set to be another smash
[© 2017 Oath]

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