Electric vehicles have changed so much in the meantime that it’s easy to forget just how much of a step forward the original Nissan LEAF was in 2010. This was a line in the sand; putting a useful range and fast charging ability in a full-size, motorway-capable family car, and it arrived just in time to benefit from unprecedented market volatility. In 2021, the Ariya SUV will set out to do the same.
For the company’s senior president of global design, Alfonso Alibaisa, delivering the right product was as much about restraint as it was making the most of starting from a blank sheet. “It is a complex journey designing an EV, because the immediate impulse is that you should design something that looks immediately very high tech,” he says.
“But human beings buy these cars; they are huge investments, and sometimes, historically, people have rejected the odd. So the bigger struggle is how purely you express something that is a technology of the future – each car company probably does it a little differently.”
The LEAF’s leftfield design had been skin-deep. Rumoured, though never confirmed, to be a relative of Nissan’s compact car platform, it wasn’t a radical reinvention of the usual combustion-engine layout – a powertrain under the bonnet, and energy storage under the cabin. The Ariya, and subsequent mid-size Renault and Mitsubishi EVs, will share a platform based around what Albaisa calls the ‘magic carpet’ layout, with a flat battery pack and drive units at one or both axles. Where some OEMs use new-found under-bonnet space for a ‘frunk’, this allowed Nissan to move bulky air conditioning components out of the cabin.
“We have a very early phase, where design and product planning start sharing with engineering how we feel flexibility or modularity can help the portfolio in electrification. We knew from the beginning that Aria is not the only child in the family, so we were able to have very deep brainstorming, about how this new platform can adapt to different circumstances and different needs,” Albaisa continues.
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