In a world of look-alike cars, can Japanese anime heroes help?
Some of Japan's top automakers, with a reputation for quality performance wrapped in often bland design, are turning to the country's pop culture to give them "J-factor" and help set them apart in a world of increasingly look-alike cars.
Designers of Nissan Motor's GT-R supercar, for example, borrowed from the popular "Gundam" sci-fi anime franchise to give the pug-nosed $100,000 model a mechanical, robot-like appearance, with a squared off rear and round tail lamps.
"Take a look at these lines. They're bent, unlike other cars with lines that flow smoothly, in order to make the car look powerful and energetic - the very charm of Japanese anime robot," Nissan's global design chief Shiro Nakamura told Reuters. "Sports car designs are usually based on fast animals jaguars, pumas and horse, or the curves of a woman's body. This car doesn't have any of those design elements."
"In a time when cars globally look more and more alike, it's very important for an automaker to find its own design identity based on the brand's own cultural background. We stress "Japan-ness" because we're a Japanese brand, but at the same time, the concept has to be easy to be accepted by the global and contemporary consumers, this is the sticking point," said Nakamura who has also designed for General Motors and Isuzu Motors.
Efforts such as those at Nissan are critical for global automakers looking to differentiate in a market where so many of today's cars are difficult to tell apart.
In the designers' office at Nissan's secretive Technical Centre on the outskirts of Tokyo, miniature models of Gundam are easy to find. It's nothing new to the Japanese young designers who grew up collecting the animation hero during their childhood.
"Anime is a part of the new culture of Japan, which can't be developed in other car makers outside of Japan," he said.
Nakamura is also experimenting with a modern interpretation of Japanese pop culture's affinity for cuteness.
He says he has been told that the Nissan Juke, a mini-SUV, looks not unlike Monkey D. Luffy, a lead character in Japanese anime "One Piece". He says he has no issues with this, though any likeness was unintended.