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Tech Talk: What’s in the Orchard

Aug. 2 – Yokohama – Nissan Executive Vice President for Research and Development, Mitsuhiko Yamashita, shares the latest in auto industry technology with the Global Media Center.

1) What technological developments are of particular significance to Nissan and the automotive industry now and how does Nissan plan for them?

EVP Mitsuhiko Yamashita:

First of all, I’d like to explain the framework behind Nissan’s research and development. Around 2004 or 2005, we introduced the so-called “Orchard Concept. ” It’s a good model for us when we develop new technology. Fruit, whether apples or oranges, cannot be developed in just one year – it takes some time. It can be many years or, in some cases, one year – it just depends. Our concept really depends on technology and how long it takes. Looking at that kind of picture, the orchard model is most suitable for us.

Nissan Executive Vice President Mitsuhiko Yamashita

The most important part of the orchard is the harvest—what do you expect, whether it’s in spring or in autumn. What are the fruit you can get. This kind of thing, the timing and the “what”, or the technology, that should be defined first. We have to provide some kind of watering for the seed. This is the orchard.

Also, we need very rich soil. If the soil is poor, we can’t expect good products to come. We really use this concept for technology development. We define four fields of the orchard. One is the environment, then there’s safety, life-on-board, and performance. These are the really key areas of technology for the Nissan orchard.

Each has what we call “star fruit” – shining, really sweet, very good fruit. That is our way, and one thing from the environment part of the orchard is the electric vehicle-related technology – a star fruit. We are very serious about electric, including hybrids. Recently, we introduced a “Smart Hybrid” for the Serena, a good example for the environment field.

In the safety field, we have the “Safety Shield” concept. This includes many new technologies now, of which many are becoming standard. Most of the Infiniti vehicles already have this. We’re trying to expand [this field] to the Nissan [brand].

There’s performance and life-on-board as well. I can’t explain them all,  but these are all of the territories.

2) What areas, such as zero-emission vehicles and EV batteries, have advanced the most progress and will there be a tipping point when cost and development time substantially decline?

EVP Yamashita:

Nissan lithium ion batteries being made at a plant in Zama

Some technologies take a long, long time. For example, the lithium-ion battery. We started that development in the early 1990s. It took almost 20 years for it to become a product itself, so this was probably one of the longest examples.

The others are relatively short, but there are reasons why it is short. It’s because we have some kind of background development. This is what we call the “soil development,” for example.

So, it depends on the technology, but probably most of the technologies will take at least around three years or more.  This is the idea of orchard development.

3) Finally, some analysts see the common smartphone as having an even greater role in car technology in the future. How do you see it?

EVP Yamashita:

Smartphones have a vital role in the future of car technology

That is the exact direction that the car should go. We did not imagine that the cellular phone and the private phone network would develop so much when we looked back 20 years ago, but everything changed in the last one or two decades. This is very significant.

Now people are connected almost 24 hours. The same thing is happening in cars.  Cars should be connected. A good example, is the Nissan LEAF. It is connected 24 hours. LEAF drivers don’t know that they are connected, but our system is watching them everywhere, every time – what’s happening to the car, is there any kind of problem, what is the battery status or whatever. We are monitoring it.

We can detect any kind of small symptom of quality problem or customers’ complaints, and we can tackle it very quickly. This is one example. Sooner or later this technology will be applied to other vehicles as well, and not only the LEAF. All cars will be connected.

Connection is not necessarily a kind of health check, but it’s a connection for more convenience, or for it to be fun to drive and for a shared community.

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