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Nissan Talks Cool Tech, Favorite 4x4s, and Automotive Innovation

We asked Nissan about the innovative technology they get to use to build vehicles, what their first 4x4 was, what their DIY projects are—and what they’re watching on Netflix.

Jobs working with cars—is there anything better? We certainly never forget how lucky we are to get paid to write about and breathe 4x4s, 24/7, 365. But imagine being someone whose job it is to build vehicles from the ground up, using the most futuristic automotive technology ever? Well, we had a chance to play the 5 Questions game with a few such people: Nissan's leaders in design, program development, and product planning, who gave us the scoop on what innovations they like in vehicles, their first 4x4s, and what exactly they do for a living.

Hiren Patel, Project Lead Designer, Nissan Design America

Job duties: Sketching, sketching, sketching! We are constantly sketching and looking for inspiration—first to get our ideas selected. Then, designers are sketching constantly to develop and communicate ideas. I am working with the clay/digital/realization teams in the studio to make our products look as close to our concepts as possible. We are also developing and coordinating the interior and color and material design together while collaborating with our counterparts in Japan. We are sometimes working on products that are regional, but they still need to be consistent with our international products. We are constantly in contact with engineering and product teams at other locations to make sure that the designs we make can be produced and that they are on target for our future customers.

Coolest equipment/technology for getting things done: Recently, it's the coming together of the analog/digital in my job that has been awesome to see. Just a few years ago, we would make a clay model, and then when we translated that into data, it would take weeks. Now we can turn out much higher quality design work and at a greater speed than ever before with a combination of scanning tools, milling machines, and our digital and clay teams. Having our vehicles touched by the hands of our sculptors is very important, and all of the new technologies working together are making that possible very quickly.

First 4x4 (or car or truck): It was an old Audi 5000 Quattro, an awesome car...when it ran! I think the headliner was a cheetah print pattern (from the factory!). It was an inline-five turbo and was such a great driver's car.

Neat tech—yours or theirs: I just read up on the early 4WD systems, so how about that? The first system was developed in 1893—that is a tech that has had staying power.

Currently watching, reading, or tackling as a project: I'm tackling odds and ends on my vintage BMW in the garage, looking for a cool first-gen Pathfinder for sale, and geeking out on any kind of car programming I can get my hands on!

Jay Sankar, Senior Manager, Product Planning

Job duties: 1. Translate customer needs into product specifications/design, etc. that provides direction for development of future products. 2. Operate at the juncture between marketing and engineering—articulating "why" the product was designed the way it was and also "what and how" the product will need to be designed as well as possible. 3. Command of the market and competitive situation in order to support strategic decisions on the product. In a nutshell, heavy focus on the product.

Coolest equipment/technology for getting things done: I get to test drive new products in different terrains to evaluate performance. Since I have responsibility for trucks and SUVs, we take these trucks on off-road terrain, which is a lot of fun.

First 4x4 (or car or truck): Nissan Frontier 4x4 Crew Cab PRO-4X.

Neat tech—yours or theirs: Our midsize pickup (Frontier) was a segment first in a number of areas. It was the first compact pickup in the U.S. (1959), the first King Cab with Extended Body (1963), and the first Crew Cab compact pickup with more than a 6-foot bed (2002), among others. These innovations are still in existence today.

Currently watching, reading, or tackling as a project: Automotive news. Snippets that appear on my Google phone that include videos, mods of trucks, etc. Since my work involves planning for future products, the work doesn't stop during a lockdown, which is great.

Melaina Vasko, Vehicle Program Development Manager—fullsize pickups, midsize pickups, fullsize SUVs

Job duties: Ultimately we set static and dynamic targets for all major and minor change body-on-frame programs. This is done through a series of customer clinics, dealer interviews and competitor benchmarking. Our job is to understand the voice of the customer, use that to set the appropriate targets, and work with Engineering to translate those targets into technical specifications.

Coolest equipment/technology for getting things done: Hands down, a truck! Trucks are so capable to do almost anything you need them to do, while maintaining the comfort you'd expect. As part of the truck team, we get to do things not many other program teams get to do in order to explore the true capability of the trucks. This ranges from off-road trips to Moab to snow testing trips to Canada/Alaska and everything in between. Who wouldn't call a truck the coolest piece of equipment they own?

First 4x4 (or car or truck): Not sure you could call it mine, but when I was in high school, I drove my dad's '97 Dodge Dakota as my daily driver. Eventually he turned in that lease for a Chevy Blazer and though I was in college by that time, I "stole" it every time I was home and did a fair amount of towing with it during summer trips to visit friends.

Neat tech—yours or theirs: The 2016 Nissan Titan adopted a Trailer Light Check feature that allowed customers to check the status of their trailer lights without the assistance of another person. This feature is initiated from the key fob or from the vehicle's instrument cluster. It goes through a trailer light activation sequence, indicating its completion with a horn honk at the end of each light check. Titan was the first to adopt this, and now the Chevrolet Silverado applies it as well. I personally worked on this feature and think it brings a lot to the customer.

Another cool feature adopted first on Titan back in 2004 is the Utili-track system. This has carried into Frontier and been maintained in both Titan and Frontier since 2004. A big reason a customer buys a truck is for the bed utility and ability to haul anything. Having Utili-track rails on the bed sides, header panel, and bed floor along with the fixed tie-downs opens up over 17 million possible tie-down combinations.

Currently watching, reading, or tackling as a project: Tiger King for sure! I can't even put it into words, but it was something I couldn't stop watching! After Tiger King I started watching Ozark. It was another one I couldn't stop watching and finished easily in a week. I am now on the search for something else to watch. I do have several house projects I've been tackling, but the big one is going to be helping my husband build a second-story deck off the lake side of our house.

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