In a world of look-alike cars, can Japanese pop culture heroes help?

Tue Apr 19, 2016 7:13pm EDT
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By Norihiko Shirouzu and Naomi Tajitsu

TOKYO (Reuters) - Some of Japan's top automakers, with a reputation for quality performance wrapped in often bland design, are turning to the country's pop culture to give them "J-factor" and help set them apart in a world of increasingly look-alike cars.

Designers of Nissan Motor's GT-R supercar, for example, borrowed from the popular "Gundam" sci-fi anime franchise to give the pug-nosed $100,000 model a mechanical, robot-like appearance, with a squared off rear and round tail lamps.

"Take a look at the car's window and roof line. It doesn't flow smoothly from front to rear, it's bent. We wanted to express the awkward but cool, powerful shape of the Japanese anime robot," global design chief Shiro Nakamura told Reuters.

"We wanted to set us apart from Porsche, Ferrari and other supercars, which are designed to mimic the streamlined beauty of a hunting animal, like a jaguar."

Nakamura, who has also designed for General Motors and Isuzu Motors, wants Japanese cultural aesthetics to help Nissan cars stand out from the crowd, noting that "globally, cars from the mainstream brands have started to look more and more alike."

"We stress Japan because we're a Japanese brand," he added. "Unless you derive design and styling from your own cultural DNA, there's no chance for continuity, and you lack confidence."

Nissan and others hope that efforts such as these can help them differentiate in a market where so many of today's cars are difficult to tell apart.

"Efficiencies of mass production, economies of scale, brand globalization, a risk-averse corporate culture, a car's ergonomics, and infrastructure and regulatory constraints all play into this phenomenon," said Richard Kong, managing partner at Montaag, a California-based design firm, who was previously a chief designer at Ford's Lincoln brand and also worked at BMW's design subsidiary.   Continued...

Shiro Nakamura, Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Nissan Motor Co, poses for a photo with Nissan Gripz concept car at the company's Global Design Center in Atsugi, Japan, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai