Nissan design chief Shiro Nakamura and Jay Leno

Nissan design chief Shiro Nakamura and Jay Leno

Forget the Nissan Leaf's pragmatic green buyers for the moment. Nissan has big electric-car ambitions, and it's no secret that they go well beyond the automaker's Leaf hatchback.

Part of those ambitions still involve a flamboyant, all-electric sports car in the near future—a project that we asked the automaker's global design chief Shiro Nakamura about in a recent Detroit Auto Show interview.

The Leaf doesn't have a particularly daring design, concedes Nakamura, because the company wanted to expand the market and make people comfortable with EVs.

“Leaf is not that, because we wanted to make it affordable, accessible for a broader customer,” he said, adding: “At the same time electric vehicles have much more potential to go beyond normal design, with packaging.”

Electric cars with in-wheel motors: outrageous packaging benefits

Applying some of those packaging benefits, Nakamura explained, you can get to something very special for niche customers, with EVs, that you can't achieve with normal engine configuration—especially with things like the in-wheel motor technology that's been showcased both in Nissan's recent Bladeglider concept from the recent Tokyo Motor Show—as well as in the latest Pivo3 city-car concept from 2011.

Nissan BladeGlider Electric Sports Car Concept - 2013 Tokyo Motor Show live shots (preview event)

Nissan BladeGlider Electric Sports Car Concept - 2013 Tokyo Motor Show live shots (preview event)

Would Nissan install in-wheel motors into a production sports-car inspired by Bladeglider? “If it goes to production, we must,” insisted Nakamura.

“It's not just at the concept level...We are making serious progress with in-wheel motors; cost is becoming less of an issue, and at a certain point we would like to use in-wheel motors.”

“There's huge potential for something unique,” he added.

How would a future electric sports car look?

As for how such a future electric sports car might look, Nakamura admitted that Bladeglider has some design attributes (like its narrow front track) that might prove insurmountable for a global product—especially with respect to safety—and that any production car would likely have to be wider in front.

2011 Nissan ESFlow concept

2011 Nissan ESFlow concept

Instead, he pointed us to the so-called ESFLOW Concept Sport EV from the 2011 Geneva Motor Show—a car that Nissan presented in well-developed form at the time—noting that some of the essence of that car, added to Bladeglider, could be a production direction.

Looking ahead: Three design tracks for EVs

“More, we want to express the sportier, exciting part of EVs,” explained Nakamura. “And in doing that, there are two new design directions for Nissan electric vehicles—one, for a cheap city commuter type unique EV; the other for a sportier, more exciting EV with unique technology...and of course we'll have Leaf in the middle.”

If this happens, Nakamura added, Leaf will stay within the expected Nissan design cues shared with the gasoline lineup, with a hint of EV, while the city car and sports car would have their own more radical design and packaging choices.

“It has to be within the Nissan brand” for those cars, he said. “However we want to go beyond the normal Nissan.”


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