Oct 042010

Nissan Townpod

One of the more interesting concepts at the Paris Auto Show which opened yesterday is Nissan’s TownPod.

Instead of being specifically tailored to the needs of a clearly defined target audience, the Townpod is essentially a blank canvas designed to be adapted to suit the needs of all those individuals who are so individual they are hard to categorize. It’s flexible interior is very clever, and being a plug-in electric vehicle, it will have zero local emissions and be cheap to run should it ever see a showroom.

For all the Townpod’s cleverness, the very first thing that struck me at the press conference was the boldness of the design. Since Henry Ford worked out how to manufacture automobiles much cheaper on production lines, auto manufacturers have made their profits selling mass produced cars that are all the same.

As manufacturing flexibility has grown from the development of more intelligent production lines, we’ve had a little more choice of specification, but that choice will grow immeasurably over the coming decades to cater for the seemingly base human need for individual expression.

Once upon a time, only the richest people had the opportunity to have their vehicles “bespoke” but computers and mass one-on-one communication will inevitably create an era of production-line personalized vehicles. The Townpod philosophy feels like a key step in that evolution and Nissan’s willingness to cater to individualization is a promising sign the company is not laboring under a legacy mindset.

The boldness of the move extends to the name too – normally Apple Computer gets its legal bovver boys to warn off any company which might wish to “misappropriate” the word “pod” which it feels is too close to its trademarked “iPod”, and might “cause confusion in the marketplace”, even if the companies it is intimidating are not even nearly in the same business as Apple.

Most companies faced with economic survival against such a daunting foe decide discretion is the better part of valor and cave in. With its unique combination of French and Japanese characteristics, Nissan isn’t nearly as likely to back down when faced with an unreasonable demand from the biggest kid on the block.

Now I think the Townpod is an excellent concept, perfectly described by its name, and I’d like to see it go into production. It’s a base vehicle that offers utility without looking and feeling like a commercial vehicle – the profile of Gizmag’s 1.5 million-a-month readership suggests a lot of our readers will agree.

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