Exclusive: Secrets of Nissan’s new lightweight global small car revealed

By Guy Bird for Just-Auto.com, Sep 2009

Why WeightWatchers would be proud of the 2010 Nissan Micra

Lightweight and flexible are the two key defining features of Nissan’s new global small car platform due to launch across the globe starting March 2010. The groundbreaking new platform – internally named ‘V’ for versatility – forms the base for the next Micra and March models and will make them significantly lighter and more fuel-efficient than their outgoing versions.

The project was started in 2005 with a remit to ruthlessly shed weight in order to create a virtuous circle whereby weight reduction leads to better fuel economy so the car can then use a smaller fuel tank and thus create more compact packaging possibilities. Project leader Noritaka Tsuru described the new package as a “breakthrough car” that required a complete “change in mentality” of how Nissan makes cars.

Project leader Noritaka Tsuru described the new package as a “breakthrough car” that required a complete “change in mentality” of how Nissan makes cars

50kg has been slashed from the new car range’s weight on average with some models losing as much as 60-70kg through a series of measures. Examples include big engineering changes like a redesigned new exhaust system to small process and material details, for instance using a new low gloss grain on the instrument panel to dispense with the need to paint the surface to avoid windscreen reflections.

Part numbers have also been vastly reduced, in the seating systems in particular (85 down to 50), leading to an overall halving of the component count. Fuel economy has been boosted through utilisation of a new three-cylinder petrol engine with engine friction improvements, a better transmission and a more aerodynamic exterior. A diesel version is also planned. The platform will accommodate two wheelbases and initially three different body styles – five-door hatch, saloon and MPV – that will launch over the next three years. The first car goes on sale in Thailand next March, but only the hatchback and supermini MPV will make it to UK shores in October 2010.

Just-Auto was granted a ‘no-photos’ preview of the final car in the metal – without interior – at an early private unveil at Nissan’s new Yokohama HQ in Japan this week. Chief designer Makoto Yamane described it as “agenda-free, with a high-end but affordable image”. The new car is certainly more conventional than the opinion-splitting old version, but with distinctively sporty-feeling bonnet creases and oval headlamps to add some character and a friendly face. Two unusual ‘U’ shapes scored into the roof and an upward curve to the car’s rear profile are not further design flourishes though. The former helps alleviate vibration and the latter significantly improves aerodynamics.

Another key consideration of the new platform is a designed-in flexibility so that more of it can be built locally with a higher percentage of local parts content to increase global efficiency and drive down costs. Nissan has trained more than 100 engineers from some of the key BRIC countries it aims to sell the vehicle to in order to get the know-how required to maintain local production and says its plant in China boasts 90% local parts content. The exterior design will vary little, but the suspension settings and other driving characteristics will be better attuned to local market road surface and driving conditions too.

In total, five plants will build the car. Beyond China, India and Thailand already confirmed, a plant in Eastern Europe and another in Latin America look most likely. Nissan hopes to produce one million examples of its V-platform per annum. The Japanese manufacturer also stated that the platform is completely open for use by its French Alliance partner Renault and could spawn further body styles after the initial three-year roll-out to 160 countries worldwide.

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