On the 80th anniversary of Nissan's founding a forward-thinking group of Nissan planners, engineers and designers gathered to grapple with a question: "How can we leverage Nissan's heritage of innovation to engage digital natives -- the new generation of ‘user innovators' who value the experience of creative collaboration at least as much as actual products?"
One solution lay in the promise of creating attractive new products by proactively interacting with next-generation customers. In turn, this led to a new development framework in which Nissan could engage with young digital natives in building a new kind of relationship—a new, progressive way of making cars.
A New Take on Nissan's "Innovation & Excitement for Everyone"
The bywords of the Nissan brand are innovation and excitement. Conventionally interpreted, this suggests that Nissan's innovations spark excitement by delivering, for example, responsive acceleration and tight handling. But excitement can also fuel innovation, particularly when it is the excitement of working with like-minded people on topics you care passionately about.
For digital natives -- those born after 1990 – touchscreens and social connectivity are taken for granted. Not satisfied with the passive consumer role, they want to be part of the story. In user communities they share information and take an active part in finding creative solutions. Modifying electronic devices or using IT to communicate and interact with others is exciting and emotionally rewarding for them. It makes their interests even more rewarding for them personally, much as it did with previous generations and their own contemporary technologies.
This insight pointed the way forward: Nissan could appeal to digital natives by delivering on the promise of "Innovation and Excitement for Everyone" in a whole new way. To offer a new take on the product development process, Nissan offered a space for digital natives to participate in product creation. Their desire to change things and create new value could be activated not just in the technology sphere but in making cars. The way forward was find a way to involve them in the monozukuri story of making things and exposing them to fun and innovative ways of imagining cars.
Francois Bancon, division general manager of Product Strategy and Product Planning at Nissan puts it this way:
"We have always valued and respected customer input and sought to exceed customer expectations. Now we are taking this into a new dimension by having customers who are passionate about Nissan participate in the development process with collaborative creation. As members of the development team, customers will work together with specialists to co-create a new generation of Nissan vehicles that reflect our customers' desires, insights and creativity at a more profound level than ever before."
The Time is Right for a New Approach
Visitors to a motor show expect to see cars—provocative concepts, groundbreaking prototypes and bewitching new models. But as it commemorates its 80th birthday Nissan is daring to not just create cars, but involve talented members of the public in a whole new way of creating new cars. Nissan calls it "co-creation" -- collaborative creativity applied to the process of developing new automobiles.
Why now? From creating artistic clothing designs to tackling global challenges, the Internet enables people to share ideas and participate in group projects through online communities. Professionals work with novices and academics. The one thing that ties them together is a passion for creative problem solving.
Looking at the big picture, these trends add up to a growing interest in Do-It-Yourself and fascination with the process of collaborative creation. The time is right to bring participative innovation to automotive design and engineering.
The Co-creation Process: How it Works
Up to now, vehicle development seemed a closed, specialist-only process. The advent of co-creation now blurs the line between producer and consumer. It starts with Nissan inviting passionate individuals to join the development team. A project begins with a topic or theme. Then the co-creation community, comprising Nissan and customers, rethinks everything -- from the primary question of how the vehicle will be used to the car's "personality." The next stage is joint development of styling and engineering. Finally, Nissan manufactures the car. With co-creation, customers get an opportunity to interact with other passionate likeminded people and creative professionals. Through this exciting collaborative process they give birth to something great that is also meaningful to them on a personal level.
For the Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan is exhibiting two show cars, IDx NISMO and IDx Freeflow, as examples of the kind of output one could look forward to in an actual co-creation scenario incorporating the values of digital natives. Both cars have the same starting point – a generic platform that is easy to understand; it stimulates people to indulge their sense of play and gives free rein to their imagination.
The two show cars give a glimpse of how co-creation can generate completely different solutions depending on the theme and participants, while building off the same base. This is a flexible platform that allows diverse customers to contribute their ideas and realize their ideals, thanks to its relative simplicity and solid performance.
For Shiro Nakamura, Nissan's senior vice president and chief creative officer, co-creation means exciting new possibilities for vehicle design.
"Nissan is recognized as a true pioneer in automotive design and is still creating whole new product genres. By reaching out to digital natives as collaborators in our vehicle design, we are looking to the future. They sense the purity of Nissan's history and how the value we create transcends the times.
The two IDx concepts have the silhouette of plain sedans. This elegance in simplicity is something Nissan rediscovered through our dynamic interaction with digital natives. We hope that this collaboration will reveal fertile new frontiers of vehicle styling for future exploration."
Both concept cars on display use the same basic body construction, but appear to be completely different due to the divergent creative themes and the originality inculcated by the participating members of each team. With a product development process that stresses flexibility, each platform becomes a springboard of expressing new ideas for collaborative communities, enabling an ideal to be realized in concrete form.
Forging a New Relationship between Nissan and Customers
For digital natives, the co-creation experience adds "cars" to the things which can stimulate their creativity. This fresh approach to collaborative work enables car lovers to help shape automotive development by combining their enthusiasm with the expertise accumulated by automotive experts. The result is not just vehicles that are relevant and optimized for future customers. By opening up the product development that had, until now, been limited to specialists, Nissan is building new relationships with its customers.
Looking ahead, Nissan is only at the beginning of its engagement with a variety of communities to stimulate and harness collective creativity….there is much more to come.
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