Next Thursday, the 25th January, will be the 15th anniversary of Nissan Design Europe (NDE)'s occupation of The Rotunda, a former British Rail maintenance depot near Paddington station.
The transformation from derelict graffiti canvas to cutting-edge design studio started in March 2002 – as we reported at the time – and once finished the following January, the studio became highly influential for the brand's European design language, turning out two of the company's most successful models of recent times in the process.
While everything from supercar concepts to convertible superminis have been conceived here, it is the now-booming crossover market where this studio really made its mark, giving Nissan the wildly successful Qashqai and the bold, memorable Juke – as well as the concept cars that foreshadowed them both.
“NDE has made an outstanding contribution to Nissan’s global product range of today, especially with the Qashqai and Juke, which have delivered new levels of choice, versatility and innovation for consumers,” says Mamoru Aoki, NDE vice president.
“Nissan Design Europe arrived at The Rotunda in 2003, when our design ethos was ‘bold and thoughtful’," he adds. “In the time since, the concept cars and production vehicles which have started life in that building all clearly display those two characteristics.”
Cementing his point, Aoki-san has chosen 15 designs which he feels have been the most influential and important to Nissan over as many years.
You can see (and debate) the list below, in chronological order, with his comments added.
2003 Qashqai Concept
The replacement for the vanilla Almera, and precursor to what would become Nissan's best-selling model in the UK, “previewed Nissan’s plans to innovate and create a new type of vehicle. It was the starting point for what is now the hugely popular European crossover segment.”
2005 Micra C+C
“The Micra was already full of character and a small car icon around the world, but this really emphasised its cuteness.”
2006 Terranaut Concept
“A preview of the Nissan Pathfinder SUV, uniquely focused on adventurers, scientists and geologists who travel to extreme regions all over the globe.”
2007 Qashqai (production model)
“Nissan’s first C-segment crossover. By the end of 2007, Nissan had sold almost 100,000 in Europe. The model enhancement [facelift] in 2010 was also very successful.”
2007 NV200 Concept
“An innovative mix of mobile office and utility vehicle in one unique package. The active, intelligent person’s dream vehicle, based on the NV200 van.”
2009 Qazana Concept
“Following the Qashqai’s success, this previewed Nissan’s plan for a smaller crossover. The concept and the styling were bold and unique.”
“Nissan’s first B-segment crossover for consumers. An icon of Nissan design, it was further proof of the high potential of what could be created at NDE.”
2013 Qashqai (second generation)
“The second generation of Qashqai. It was a big step forward in almost every way, while keeping the practicality and on-road performance – the ‘Qashqai-ness' – of the original.”
2014 Concept 2020 Vision Gran Turismo
“A masterpiece of automotive design, created to showcase the future Nissan design direction that we call ‘Emotional Geometry’.”
2014 Infiniti Emerg-E Concept
“The ultimate expression of Infiniti, Nissan’s premium brand, which blends inspired performance and future design direction with zero emissions.”
2015 Gripz Concept
“A study of a near-future B-segment crossover blended with sports car characteristics. It also shows future Nissan design direction, and is consistent with the vision of the Concept 2020.”
2016 Blade Glider Prototype
“A futuristic, high performance EV in a revolutionary sports car design. A running prototype, it has been hugely popular wherever it has been seen all around the world.”
2016 Navara EnGuard Concept
“[It] shows a potential aftermarket customisation direction for Navara, with innovative use of Nissan EV batteries to create portable power units for businesses which work remotely.”
2017 Infiniti Q60 Project Black S
“Explores the potential for a new Infiniti high-performance model line. A radical reinterpretation of the Q60 coupe, hinting at a performance hybrid powertrain and inspired by Formula One energy recovery systems.”