October 2010 Issue
The Fence
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The All-New 2015 Nissan

What features will owners of Nissan electric vehicles want five years from now? 

Looking for answers are six teams of artists, designers, engineers, and marketers from the College of Engineering, School of Design, and Tepper School of Business. The question is part of their Integrated Product Development class, and Nissan executives will be sitting in to hear the ideas at semester's end. One of the teams consists of Gautam Ghorpade (TPR'10), Eunice Park (A'10), Anna Ostberg, (CS'10), Michael Agres (TPR'10), Samantha Simmons (A'09, CMU'10), Michael Reese (CMU'10), and John Kim (TPR'10).

That team's product research, focus groups, personal interviews, and brainstorming sessions produce more than 150 ideas, transferred to yellow stickies, most of which are peeled from the team's conference room wall and pitched into the trash during the team's 50-odd meetings. One idea sticks, though. Who wouldn't want an electric car that vacuums itself at night in the garage while the car battery charges and its owner sleeps?! 

Next: How to do it? Ideas abound. Rotating floor boards, bamboo flooring, and turf carpeting are dreamed up, crumpled, and pitched. An ultraviolet light idea lingers until Ghorpade, the team's engineer/mathematician, constructs an energy curve proving its inefficiency.  

A robotic vacuum cleaner is what makes the most sense. But designing an unsupervised device small enough to work on the floor of a car proves to be a stubborn challenge. To make matters worse, the last progress update to Nissan revealed serious flaws in the proposed system. A vacuum option that requires a change in the car's floor design will not be cost-effective. It has to work within Nissan's chassis. 

By semester's end, Reese, the team's de facto leader, informs the group that the time has come to stop cogitating and make this thing happen. Nobody disagrees. Hence, there is a weekend of back-to-back all-nighters. Even at this late stage, the team is divided. The engineers want functionality; the designers want appeal; the marketers want sales. The deadline makes them work through their differences to realize all of their objectives. 

The PowerPoint presentation and prototype are finished with literally three minutes to spare before the final presentation to Nissan. The presentation prompts applause, compliments, and congratulatory handshakes. Nissan executives tell Reese and the rest of the team that that the self-cleaning vehicle idea, as well as several of the other class topics, will be used to inspire Nissan's designers.
-Tom Imerito 

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