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Nissan’s Francois Bancon on China’s Friend-ME Concept

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April 20 – Shanghai – The Shanghai Motor Show will see the debut of Nissan’s Friend-ME concept, a futuristic model designed for China’s post-1980s generation.

Francois Bancon, divisional general manager at Nissan for product strategy & planning, explains the ideas and Chinese designers behind the project.

What’s the thinking behind the Friend-ME concept?

Francois Bancon

Nissan's Francois Bancon

The C-segment in China is the biggest segment in the country. Basically, body type is sedan and the values relating to this segment are about quality and status. What we found two years ago in our research in China was a new generation – the post-1980s generation.

These people have very different values. They are somehow conservative yet somehow traditional. But the thing they want from a car is something that is different from their parents. That’s the story: How can we address this generation, which has some kind of conventional taste but wants something that feels “themselves.”

Knowing that this generation is more expressive, more emotional, more egoistic somehow… That should lead to a different product than in the mainstream C-segment sedan in China.

Can you tell us more about “Four Seats, One Mind Connectivity”? What does it mean and what’s the aim?

Bancon

Nissan's Friend-ME

It’s kind of complicated. From the research we did in China, we have identified a kind of community or generation – they’re called the post-80s generation, who are the one-child policy generation. These people are very Chinese. They are not against the Chinese traditional culture, family, respect, etc. They just want something a little bit more spicy for themselves. They want to be seen as different from their parents.You know there are people now, as I said, with one child in the family.

They are ultra-connected like anywhere else on social networks or Chinese versions of Facebook. So, they want something, which fits their own individual personal tastes, but at the same time they are in a sharing mode.

The idea of the car is that it’s a four-seat car – not a five-seater as a sedan is usually. It’s a four-seater – you have your own space, for yourself, you can check your own social network, website, whatever… It’s for yourself and at the same time, you can share things.

How long will it be until we see cars with characteristics like those in Friend-ME on sale in China and elsewhere?

Bancon

We are not disclosing any production plan here. But it should be noticed that we are very serious. This generation has been identified by Nissan as critical for our growth in China, so we’re going to have to do something. I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you how now, but you can expect something soon.

Friend-ME is being shown in Shanghai with young Chinese consumers in mind. To what extent will they shape future trends the global auto industry? 

Bancon

Friend-ME

I don’t know. It’s difficult. They are Chinese, so they have some Chinese tastes or mindset. At the same time, they are very global. They are connected with everyone in the world. I think the way they will influence our industry is in moving the mainstream category. Let’s say, the C-segment sedan, which is very, very normal.

They are going to help us shift this to something more expressionist or somehow more disruptive while remaining in the mainstream. It may happen that this generation in China may go for a global product that is a little bit more strong in expression. It’s not about features or powertrain, etc., but more in the exterior design – something that turns people’s heads a little bit.

Friend-ME was created by Nissan’s Beijing design studio and follows the Nissan EXTREM, made especially for Brazil. How is the increased localization of design, including concept models, changing the industry?

Bancon

Nissan's Extrem concept was a hit in Sao Paolo

It’s a change and it’s a trend. The same way we are manufacturing and sourcing parts close to the market where we sell, in the same way we have to design and conceptualize cars close to the market. That doesn’t mean at all we are going local.

My own vision on this is that the future of being global is to be local with a global mindset. The paradox is that the more we are going global, the more local is important because people want something that makes sense for them. They don’t want a global, generic, formulaic product. They want something that tells a story for themselves.

This combination between global and local is a mindset, an attitude. You may have people work a bit like we did for EXTREM in Brazil, like we do for Friend-ME in China but having a global mindset—something that may fit a global expectation, but strongly rooted in local expectations.

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