September 13, 2007 According to Nissan research, teenagers have fallen out of love with the car – they see it as an oily, noisy throwback to the last century. Rather than drive across town to meet friends, they live in a virtual world where the internet is their vehicle of choice. Nissan, however, believes the Mixim show concept will ‘refresh’ their opinions. The futuristic electric coupe concept has a central driving position, a cloverleaf ‘three plus one’ seating layout, scissor doors, an F1-style wheel and controls, lightweight construction and plenty of power … and it’s all electric
“If the motor industry is going to survive beyond the next few years, we are going to have to work hard to attract future generations of drivers – people who currently find it difficult to love the car. Mixim is one way to do that. It combines a sociable three plus one interior with controls and visual projections that are familiar to the computer generation. And it uses environmentally-friendly battery power,” says Shiro Nakamura, Senior Vice President and Head of Design, Nissan Motor Company
At Nissan’s Exploratory and Advance Planning Department, the dateline is currently 2020. The Tokyo-based team is looking not just at the car of 12 to 15 years hence, but also at how it will fit into our lives.
And the future’s not looking bright. The trouble is that the next generation of drivers – today’s young teens – are giving the car the cold shoulder according to Nissan’s research. According to the research, teenage lives are nowadays ruled by the computer which taken centre stage by providing everything they need: education, shopping, entertainment and global communication.
For them, the car has become an anachronism, a relic from the days when their parents drove everywhere, oblivious to how they were exhausting the natural resources needed to keep it going. And that’s before the young start on the damage its emissions used to do to the environment.
Besides, why would they want to drive somewhere to socialise, when they can have an instant video conversation with as many friends as they can find on line?
In response to this trend, Nissan’s Exploratory team has foreseen this shift in attitude towards the car and has created Mixim to halt the decline.
Mixim has been designed to change young people’s feelings towards the car… and towards each other: with three full and one occasional seat, a Mixim driver will have the opportunity to interact with friends in person rather than over the internet!
The brainchild of François Bancon, general manager of Nissan’s Exploratory and Advance Planning Department, Mixim has all the right ingredients to excite the next generation of drivers.
“The young of today have a different sense of reality. They are no longer so interested in products but in experiences. They interface the world through the computer. Our task was to develop a programme that they could identify with. And out of that programme came Mixim,” says Bancon.
Mixim is an electric vehicle, and so appeals to the environmental concerns of the young, but in looks, attitude and performance it’s miles away from the typical battery-powered city-compact we know today.
Powered by Nissan’s ‘Super Motor’ electric motor/generator and using compact lithium-ion batteries, Mixim has unusually rapid performance combined with a usefully extended range. One Super Motor powers the front axle and a second drives the rear axle, giving Mixim all-wheel drive. Despite being a concept car with no guarantees of being turned into a series production model, Mixim’s development is in line with the Nissan Green Programme, the company’s publicly stated desire to create a sustainable mobile society.
Its performance potential is reflected in its coupé-style looks while some of the features inside and out – including updates of iconic designs from the motor racing arena – should appeal even to the most anti-car youngster.
But perhaps Mixim’s biggest selling point, at least as far as next generation of car drivers is concerned, is the cabin itself.
From the commanding central driving position, the driver faces a cockpit inspired by computer games. There’s a horizontal split screen effect with virtual displays visible beneath the reality as seen through the visor-like windscreen.
The illusion is completed by the steering wheel, which resembles a computer race game controller. Adopting a Formula 1-style ‘command and control’ approach, the wheel incorporates switches for control functions.
“Mixim is the result of true global research. Teenagers seem to have a pretty similar outlook on the car whether they live in Europe, the United States or Japan,” says Bancon.
“We found that they are not car enthusiasts… the car is simply not part of their culture. We could make the world’s best TV or cinema advert, but if it was about a car they just won’t bother to look at it. Not even if we put it on the web!
“The car doesn’t make sense for them. It looks like something from the past. We have to figure how we can reconnect with them.”
Mixim is radically different in looks, style and appeal to the typical electric vehicle. The EV as we know it today is a small, boxy, almost ‘anti-car’ design. Used in cities by commuters anxious to display their green credentials, it provides their basic transport needs… but little else. An EV is bought with the head and not the heart.
Mixim, however, is different. Led by Masato Inoue, chief designer of the exploratory design studio, Mixim was created by a design team with an average age of just 25. It takes the most up-to-date EV technology and clothes it in a svelte and distinctive coupé shape. Its wraparound windscreen, inspired by the visor of a crash helmet, dominates the profile while the swept back windscreen, flowing roofline and sharply truncated rear hints at sporting performance unexpected from an electric vehicle.
The concept has a dramatic ‘liquid silver charcoal’ metallic finish with a fluid, liquid-like, surface which accentuates its slightly sinister shape. “We didn’t want to produce another ‘cuddly’ EV, but a concept with genuine character that just happens to be battery-powered,” says Inoue.
“Many of its elements – the head and tail lamps, for example – are emblematic of our design approach. These non-defined wavy surfaces are a metaphor for free thinking and are the antithesis of conventional machine appearance,” he adds.
Diamond-shaped styling cues feature inside and out, notably on the twin air intakes to the rear of the doors and the front LED driving lights, while an upper triangular side window links the gentle slope of the roof with the dramatic angular slash that runs through the centre of the doors. The rear hatch opens to reveal a large trunk area behind the three seats. An occasional fourth seat is also housed behind the front seat module.
Lightweight alloy rims – 18ins at the front and 19ins at the rear – feature fully dished covers to further improve Mixim’s aerodynamic qualities while the wheels themselves are pushed as close to the front and rear of the car as possible. Sitting on a 2530mm wheelbase, Mixim is 3700mm long, 1800mm wide and 1400mm high, making it slightly shorter but wider and noticeably lower than the Nissan Micra. Mixim weighs just 950kgs.
Two special design features take their inspiration from the racetrack, but have been made significantly more practical for the High Street. A fourth seat is housed in the luggage area behind the front seat module.
Mixim has a central driving position with two passenger seats positioned in a cloverleaf pattern beside and slightly behind the centre chair.
To get to the driver’s seat, Nissan designers have made sure there is no need to clamber over the passenger seat first. To ease access to the centre, the seat module swivels sideways by 35 degrees.
Ingress and egress is made easier still by the adoption of doors that also form an integral part of the roof.
But rather than create a door that has to be opened impractically wide, Mixim’s doors have a scissor opening action. Instead of opening conventionally, they move out fractionally before swinging vertically forwards to allow easy access to the interior. In keeping with the rest of the car, the doors open electrically.
“The inspiration for Mixim’s design development was ‘99 per cent Evil, one per cent Cute’. This ‘Mini-Monster’ theme was developed from a spectrum of Japanese computer game animations,” says Inoue. “We wanted to create an icon for this digital generation… something that went far beyond the stereotypes to which their parents tend to be attracted.”
Once inside, driver and companions enjoy a spacious interior with instruments and controls that wouldn’t look out of place in a computer game.
Key concepts behind the interior design were a ‘fusion of virtual and real’ and ‘an extension of self’. The results include the sensation of being inside an F1-style cockpit, the direct links between hand and eye movements and the structure of the wing-like centre panel.
“The look and feel of the interior’s soft-skin over an aluminium frame was inspired by ‘Japanimation’,” says Inoue. “These features are central to the driving experience for this digital age.”
Ahead of the driver is a U-shaped wheel complete with switches for audio and communication functions. Beneath the deep windscreen there’s a wraparound LCD instrument panel housing an information display.
As well as expected data – vehicle speed, distance covered, power usage and so on – the display includes an advanced mapping system. More than simple turn-by-turn satellite navigation, the display uses a forward-facing camera to give the driver an accurate ‘real-time’ depiction of the road ahead.
The panel also incorporates a virtual representation of the front wheels. This is linked to real-time movement of the steering wheel to give the driver the impression of being in control of a single-seat racing car. From a steering input point of view that’s not too wide of the mark: Mixim needs just half a turn to go from lock to lock.
“This on-board camera shows not just the road ahead but also the angle and direction of the front wheels. Seeing this, the driver will be convinced he or she is sitting in the cockpit of an F1 car!” says Inoue.
There are no rear-view mirrors. Instead, the view behind Mixim is relayed to the driver via two cameras mounted where the door mirrors are usually found. The resulting images are displayed on the outer edges of the central panel.
It all adds up to what Bancon refers to as: “The unexpected driving experience.”
But with space for two (or occasionally three) friends this is neither a selfish nor egotistical machine. “Members of the younger generation are very sociable, but until now they tend to conduct their social activities through the virtual world. With Mixim they can now interact as humans again,” says Bancon.
Electricity is the only source of energy the younger generation is prepared to consider. It’s clean, quiet and delivers no pollution when the car is being driven.
“The young identify with electricity… it’s what they use to power their computers and their iPods. Nissan is an EV company and strongly committed to developing EV technology,” says Bancon.
“For Mixim, electric power was the point of entry. No other power source was considered. In 2015 or 2020 you will be green or you won’t exist.”
At its heart, therefore, Mixim has one of the most efficient electric motors currently produced. Nissan’s Super Motor, first seen in the EFFIS concept shown at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, differs from conventional electric motors by being power source and generator in one compact package.
Super Motor features dual rotors inside and outside a single stator coil and, as a result, can output power through two shafts at the same time. By controlling the power output of each shaft separately, it is possible to drive right and left wheels independently.
Thanks to the use of compound current, Super Motor offers greater power density than conventional motors. As well as powering pure electric vehicles, Super Motor has application potential for petrol/electric hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.
Central to the success of the Super Motor concept is the work being undertaken by a new company established as a joint venture between Nissan and the NEC Corporation. The Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC) has been established to develop, manufacture and market lithium-ion batteries.
Research on Nissan’s high output lithium-ion cell began as long ago as 1992 and became a key element of Nissan’s X-TRAIL FCV prototype which was unveiled in 2003.
AESC is continuing the development of laminate Lithium-Ion battery technology to advance performance still further at the same time as reducing manufacturing costs.
Unlike a conventional lithium-ion battery with its bulky cylindrical cells, Nissan’s Li-Ion battery uses thin laminated cells and has fewer components overall. This boosts its power by a factor of 1.5 at the same time as halving its physical size. The cell construction, in turn, means a thin modular design is possible with a commensurate improvement in battery cooling efficiency.
Higher power outputs are also achieved through material improvements made to its lithium manganate positive electrode and carbon negative electrode.
This small yet more powerful battery also provides packaging advantages. Locating the compact cells under the floor of the car not only lowers the centre of gravity, but also permits the development of a low, flat floor with commensurate gains in interior space. Mixim uses two laminate Li-Ion batteries each developing 50 kW.
Mixim is expected to have a top speed of 180 km/h, with a potential maximum range of 250kms. Another benefit of the laminate Li-Ion battery is its quick recharging cycle: a complete re-charge will take between 20 and 40 minutes only.
Mixim might be a concept but it is a long way from being from a flight of fancy. “When we were creating Mixim, one of our major goals was for it to be seen as totally credible. By using existing technology, albeit the most advanced technology we currently have, Mixim can be seen as more than a show car,” says Bancon. “It is a serious statement of intent.”
Mixim has been created using a modified version of Nissan’s B-platform – as used by Micra, NOTE and Cube – as a base, upon which a light but immensely strong composite body has been placed.
One Super Motor electric power unit drives the front wheels of the concept while a second is housed at the back of the car to drive the rear wheels.
Mixim is designed to tick all the right boxes as far as the younger generation is concerned. It is powered by an advanced, powerful, yet environmentally friendly electric motor and is compact enough to fit into their urban world.
Its sporting lines are meant to signify agility rather than out and out performance. “Sport has a different meaning for the young generation. Sport is an iconic signature, a style, that’s not specifically linked to outright performance or to the car,” believes Bancon.
But Mixim is not a car for everyone. “It is a car that parents will reject: it is a concept for a new generation who know who they are and know what they want. Our plan is that they want a car like Mixim.”
About Nissan’s Exploratory And Advance Planning And Design Department
Nissan’s Exploratory and Advance Planning and Design Department operates far in the future.
Unlike typical product planning and design departments, which are developing new models one or perhaps two generations ahead, Nissan’s Exploratory Department is always looking at least eight to 12 years into the future.
And instead of simply looking at designs for new cars, the Department has a much wider brief. Once or twice a year it gathers together experts in a number of different fields to look a long way into the future. This ‘scenario planning’ looks not just at mobility issues but at political, cultural and social issues on a global scale, too.
“Our job is to highlight possible changes in lifestyle in the years ahead,” says Department Manager François Bancon. Among the ‘givens’ are the issues created by an ageing population in the developed world and migration from poorer to richer countries.
“But then we look at what we call the uncertainties. This is not about forecasting but just considering what the future might bring. For example, we know we are moving towards a more global culture... but will this culture be a mosaic or a melting pot?
“We have many uncertainties like this, especially on a political and social level, and we try to make the unexpected connection between them. Then we consider how it might impact on us as a company.
“As far as exploring core needs for the future, we are seeking those that are distinctive or unique, rather than predictable. Exploratory work is not about fulfilling the existing requirements of the market but answering new emerging needs, unexpressed needs.”
Following scenario planning sessions last year, the decision was taken to explore further the connection between the digital and real worlds. The brief included understanding what the word ‘real’ means to the younger generation.
“We discovered that they have a new sense of reality: they have become a virtual generation. They don’t need to have a physical connection with a product to own it. Take music: older generations still want to see or touch a CD, but the younger generation is happy simply to download its music from the internet.
“From this we developed an entire forward planning programme which we called Remix… actually we called it Remix Against the Machine, because it was an anti-machine message that was coming through,” says Bancon.
Mixim, Nissan’s concept EV for the Frankfurt, came out of the Remix programme. “But it is just one idea to emerge from the programme. We have other developments which might be seen at other shows, or might even appear on our roads… but if they do, it’ll be sooner rather than later,” he adds.