(from Nuvu Press
Release) Nuvu: Reshaping the City
Within just a few years,
cities all over the world will be at near bursting point. If mankind
wants to retain the level of personal mobility it currently enjoys –
and if the city is to survive – the only way forward is for a
radical rethink of the type of cars driven there. One solution could
be a car like Nuvu, designed for the city of the not-too-distant
“Nuvu is literally a ‘new view’ at the future of the city car. It is
electric, of course, but as far as Nissan is concerned, for
tomorrow's city cars that is a given. No, the most important aspect
of Nuvu is the interior design which provides great comfort and
space in an intelligent package designed to make best use of our
crowded roads and limited parking slots.”
- François Bancon, General Manager, Exploratory and Advance Planning
Department, Product Strategy and Product Planning Division, Nissan
Motor Co., Ltd.
At a glance
-- 2 +1 seating in
compact 3m package
-- Unique platform for Nuvu
-- Zero emissions from EV drivetrain
-- Drivetrain previews production EV due soon
-- X-By-Wire control for all dynamic functions
-- Extensive use of natural, organic and recycled materials
-- An urban oasis complete with its own tree inside, which...
...provides shade for the interior, and
...generates solar energy via its ‘leaves’
There is about to be a
seismic shift in the urban landscape. Within the next five to seven
years, some 55 percent of the world’s population will live in the
city, threatening total gridlock. Unless something is done, the
irony of the phrase ‘personal mobility’ will be self-evident.
Look around at the cars in a typical city traffic jam today and the
vast majority will have only one occupant and four empty seats. Some
might have two occupants, a few three. But find one with four
occupants or more and you’ll be doing very well.
Today, we buy a family car knowing that we’ll only ever need to use
it to its full potential one or perhaps two percent of the time.
Tomorrow, things will be different. Tomorrow, things have to be
“There is a new generation coming up who, finally, are questioning
why we do the things we do. They are asking themselves, for example,
why they are buying a large car when they know that for 99 percent
of the time they will be in it on their own,” says François Bancon,
General Manager, Exploratory and Advance Planning Department,
Product Strategy and Product Planning Division, Nissan Motor Co.,
“It is our job to provide personal transportation that is better
suited to people’s needs and to what the environment – in all senses
– can cope with.”
Nissan’s vision for the future of urban transportation is
encapsulated in Nuvu, a ‘new view’ of the type of car we will be
driving in the middle of the next decade. Compact – it’s just 3
meters long – Nuvu is a concept vehicle with unique 2+1 seating. It
is aimed at urban dwellers who don’t want to compromise on their
personal freedom or their comfort, yet who appreciate that
‘something has to give.’
Nuvu is agile, easy to drive, even easier to park. And it is, of
course, an electric vehicle (EV). As Bancon says: “We believe zero
emission vehicles are one of the key solutions for tomorrow’s city
Nuvu is described as a moving oasis, a haven of green tranquility in
the urban jungle. To underline this message, Nuvu incorporates a
witty representation of its green credentials: across its all-glass
roof are a dozen or so small solar panels. Shaped like leaves on a
branch, the power they generate is fed to the battery using a ‘tree
trunk’ within the car as a conduit. Nuvu also uses natural, organic
and recycled materials within the cabin.
Nissan has already announced plans to introduce an all-electric car
in Japan and the US in 2010 and to mass-market it globally in 2012.
Nuvu is not that car, though it does share some of the technology
that will feature in the planned production vehicle. Rather, it is a
concept of how a Nissan EV might look in the near future.
In the longer term, Nissan foresees a future based around a line-up
of zero emission vehicles regardless of their size, category and
usage. Nuvu – or its production equivalent – is just one element of
this emission-free future.
Nuvu in detail
The central thrust
behind the development of Nuvu is not its motive power but its
layout and use of space. Nuvu has been created for a city of the
future, one that’s even more crowded than today.
That’s why it’s compact on the outside yet roomy on the inside.
Built on a unique platform, it’s just 3 meters long and sits on a
wheelbase of 1980 mm but is 1700 mm wide and 1550 mm tall to create
a large and airy cabin.
These dimensions provide
all the interior room needed for the vast majority of city journeys.
Nuvu has two regular seats and a third occasional chair that can be
folded down when required. But, unlike some two-seater city cars
currently on the market, it is a thoroughly practical proposition
with an integral luggage area providing sufficient space for a
typical supermarket or shopping expedition.
“It is a real car,” says Bancon. “There would be no disadvantages to
using a Nuvu everyday. For the vast majority of users, three seats
are more than enough most of the time.”
The packaging is designed to give priority to driver comfort with
C-segment levels of space and the flexibility to invite one or two
passengers on board. Cabin layout places the regular passenger seat
beside but largely behind the driver’s seat, allowing the passenger
to stretch right out. Ahead of this seat is a third occasional chair
which, when not in use, is folded away into the dashboard assembly.
But even when the third seat is in use, there remains sufficient
legroom for both passengers.
In the interests of saving both weight and space, the third seat has
a center section made from hardwearing yet comfortable netting. This
hammock-like approach also has the benefit of allowing cool or warm
air to circulate around the occupant’s body for extra comfort.
Shopping bags, briefcases and smaller items of luggage can be stowed
behind the driver’s seat while if the driver is traveling solo,
larger items can be stowed in the passenger footwall.
City car research
“We did a great deal of
research into how people use their cars in the city. We found that
for 90 percent of the time, the driver was alone. For five percent
of the time there was one passenger and for four percent of the time
there were two passengers. You can do the math to find out how often
four or more people were in the car!” says Bancon.
“We gave the second seat much more room than normal because when you
take one passenger in your car it is usually someone you love and
you want to make sure he or she is being carried in outstanding
comfort,” he adds.
Many of the materials
used inside Nuvu reflect an increasing concern for the environment.
The floor is made from wood fibers pressed into laminate sheets and
is studded with rubber inserts made from recycled tires for grip. To
create a light and bright interior, the windscreen and roof merge
into one extended panel running virtually the entire length of the
car. But undoubtedly the most unusual feature of the interior is the
‘energy tree’ which rises from the luggage compartment floor to the
roof behind the driver’s seat.
The energy tree is
shaped like a thin trunk. As it reaches daylight it branches out
under the glass roof providing occupants with protection from bright
sunlight… just like a real tree. And providing a visual reminder of
Nuvu’s green credentials, covering the branches are dozens of small
solar panels shaped like leaves.
The panels absorb energy from the sun which is then fed back down
the energy tree and used to help recharge the battery and provide an
extra power boost for the electric motor. As well as being genuinely
green energy, it is estimated that the power generated via the solar
panels will save the equivalent of one full overnight charge from
mains electricity each month.
Driver controls are as simple as possible. All the major functions –
steering, braking, transmission and throttle – are ‘By-Wire’ while
the steering is controlled by an aircraft-style steering yoke: with
just one turn from lock to lock, the steering is very direct for
agility and maneuverability in the city. Nuvu’s turning circle is
just 3.7 meters. Thanks to its wide track and the use of 16 inch
165/55 tires mounted on lightweight, almost transparent, wheels,
ride comfort, stability and agility is of the highest order.
There are two pedals – for stop and go – stalks for minor controls
and a digital instrument panel with dials for speed, distance
covered and battery range. The instrument panel itself is formed of
layers – rather like an onion – and like the energy tree is another
example of design inspired by nature. “We call it bio-mimicry,” says
Rear view/parking monitor
Two screens on the
dashboard display the view behind the car – there are no door
mirrors to disturb the airflow, but small cameras – and double as
monitors for the Around View Camera which give a bird’s eye view of
the car when maneuvering or parking.
Saving energy was the guiding force behind the use of low-energy LED
head and tail lamps, while Nuvu’s heating and ventilation system
filters and cleans the city air as it passes through the vehicle.
Not only does it produce no emissions at source, but Nuvu actually
helps clean up the city environment.
Exterior and interior design
“Nuvu’s design is
further clear evidence of Nissan’s continued desire to challenge
convention and to explore all the possibilities that the EV could
bring us. In many ways it was inspired by our two most extreme EVs
of recent times: Mixim and Pivo 2.
“Significantly, though, Nuvu delivers a more realistic
interpretation of two of the most important aspects of its
forerunners – the ‘Friendly Innovation’ found in Pivo 2 and the
‘Sports Dynamics’ central to Mixim
“The result? We have designed a radical concept car that with just a
few changes could go into production tomorrow,” explains Masato
Inoue, Chief Designer, Product Design Department, Nissan Motor Co.,
Developed by designers at Creative Box Inc. – Nissan’s design
think-tank – Nuvu's green house has flowing lines with gentle curves
inspired by nature. The distinctive shape of the door glass on
either side gives the impression of a hot air balloon that’s being
gently inflated by pressure from within, while tropical fish
inspired the profile of the side window graphics as a whole.
This contrast between the natural, fluid shape of the green house
and the strength implied by the solidity of the lower body gives
Nuvu a feeling of quality rarely found in a compact car.
Color and materials
Nuvu’s visual impact is
further enhanced by its unique body color. Developed by Nissan
Design, the shade is officially called Soft Feel Sandy Gold.
Matching the ecological values of an electric vehicle, the molded
plastics and synthetic elements found inside a typical production
car have been replaced by natural materials and organic
alternatives, such as the wood fibers and rubber from car tires used
for the flooring. The result helps create a relaxed, warm atmosphere
within Nuvu’s cabin.
During the design development stage, key targets were to develop an
EV that encompassed obvious modernity with engaging ambience and a
playful aspect – hence the energy tree. “You don’t need to be a car
lover to fall in love with Nuvu,” adds Bancon.
Nuvu is more than a
styling concept of a future EV. It is a fully working mobile test
bed for much of the technology that will be used in Nissan’s
production EV to be launched in 2010. For this reason elements of
its technical specification are being kept secret for the time
The electric motor used in Nuvu is mounted at the rear of the
vehicle and drives the back wheels, though neither its exact
specification nor the power and torque figures are being released at
this stage. A driving range of 125 kms and top speed of 120 km/h are
being made public, however.
Similarly although it
can be revealed that the batteries used are of the latest laminated
lithium-ion type and have a capacity of 140 Wh/kg (watt-hours per
kilogram), the total capacity of the batteries and number of modules
are not being disclosed at this stage.
Nissan began research into high output Li-Ion cells as long ago as
1992, but today development is carried out by Automotive Energy
Supply Corp. (AESC), a joint venture company set up by Nissan and
Unlike a conventional lithium-ion battery with its bulky cylindrical
cells, the laminated Li-Ion battery as used in Nuvu has thin
laminated cells and fewer components overall. This boosts its power
by a factor of 1.5 at the same time as halving its physical size. It
also remains twice as efficient as a conventional cylindrical Li-Ion
battery even after five years or 100,000 kms of continuous usage.
Another bonus of the compact cell construction is that a thin
modular design is possible with a commensurate improvement in
battery cooling efficiency. Higher power outputs are achieved
through material improvements made to its lithium manganate positive
electrode and carbon negative electrode. The use of chemically
stable spinel-structured manganese for the positive electrode also
helps ensure safe operation.
Its compact size allows the batteries to be mounted under the seats
and the vehicle’s flat floor, thus helping to keep the center of
gravity as low as possible.
A quick charge from empty to full should take between 10 to 20
minutes while a full charge should take between three to four hours
from a domestic 220v socket.
“The people who will be
drawn to a car like Nuvu are many and varied,” says Bancon. “It is a
cross generational car and not a signature vehicle for one
“There will be common threads, however. They will be early adopters
but more importantly they regard themselves as urban citizens. They
don’t just work or live in the city; they are part of the city. They
want a car that somehow expresses who they are and which reflects
their personal ideology.”
Although clearly a
concept vehicle exploring aspects of future vehicle design, Nuvu
nevertheless embodies many messages for today. Its clever interior
provides ample headroom, legroom and comfort for most everyday needs
without occupying more road space than it needs.
The use of recycled and natural materials underlines Nuvu’s
environmental message and while the energy tree might be considered
as a piece of whimsy, the use of solar energy is an entirely
sensible and practical technological solution to aid an emission
“Nuvu is a concept car, for sure, but it is an entirely credible
vehicle,” says Bancon. “It is light, clean and easy to drive. It is
practical and a sensible size, yet it is also embodies an element of
fun: the future doesn’t look so bad, after all.”
Creative Box Inc.
Much of the research in
the concept that became Nuvu was carried out by a maverick design
studio called Creative Box Inc. Although wholly owned by Nissan,
Creative Box is run as an independent offshoot where the company’s
young designers are given a free rein to develop ideas and concepts
Opened in 1987 in the lively Harajuku area of Tokyo, the designers
are influenced by the urban buzz all around them. Away from the
constraints of Nissan’s corporate HQ, the designers set their own
working hours so as not to limit their creativity. A youthful part
of the city, Harajuku is home to unusual architecture, the latest in
fashions and style, street theatre, new music and avant-garde food.
The designers are a diverse mix of people from all over the globe,
producing designs that challenge convention. Concepts developed at
Creative Box are just the sort of cars the young designers would
like to drive themselves: they are, in effect, their own target
Nissan’s EV history
Nissan is today one of
the world’s leading exponents of EV technology and has announced
plans to launch a new battery-powered vehicle in 2010, with sales
starting in Japan and the US before introduction into Europe and
But that EV is far from being the first Nissan electric vehicle. In
fact the company can trace its EV history back more than 60 years to
the “Tama” model, which was introduced in 1947. The Tama was a
family four seater with a huge rear hinged door on either side of
the body to ease access to the rear seats.
The EV technology of the day was comparatively primitive so the
heavy battery-powered Tama had limited performance and range. Top
speed was 35kms, but it had a range of only 65kms between charges.
It wasn’t until 1970 that Nissan looked again at battery power with
the arrival of a tiny city car called 315X-a. This was followed
three years later by the EV4 pick-up truck and, another year later,
by an electric concept based on the Laurel saloon.
In the 1980s the company produced an electric vehicle aimed at the
recreational market. Called the Resort, it was an open-sided multi-seater
that was part golf buggy/part mini-bus in concept.
In the 1990s, Nissan stepped up development of the EV, especially on
the technological side. A smooth coupé concept, the FEV appeared in
1991. This led directly to the two-door FEV-II concept of 1995 which
was powered by a lithium-ion battery. The first production EV with a
lithium-ion battery was the 1997 Nissan Prairie Joy. Based on the
conventional Prairie people carrier, Prairie Joy was used
extensively as a mobile development test bed.
Lessons learned were then put into two further EVs, R’nessa and
Altra, both launched in 1998. Both were converted from standard
petrol-powered cars while the Altra was sold to hand-picked fleet
operators in California for further real-world testing.
At the same time, Nissan started experiments in a car-sharing
program in Japan. The purpose-designed Hypermini EV was built in
sufficient numbers (around 220) for an extensive car-sharing program
to be instigated: cars were leased to the city of Yokohama with the
aim of developing a new mobility program. The diminutive Hypermini
was a highly advanced vehicle powered by a synchronized neodymium
magnet type motor and a lithium-ion battery. It used recycled
materials as well as resin panels and had a light weight and
easy-to-recycle aluminum spaceframe.
Although the Hypermini car-sharing experiment went ahead, it wasn’t
until after the Alliance with Renault was in place that further EV
development took place.
And that has happened at a rapid pace. The new millennium has seen
no fewer than four concept EVs and the development of many new
technologies designed to improve the practical performance and range
of the EV. The revolutionary Pivo – revolutionary in every sense,
thanks to its revolving cabin – appeared in 2005 and was followed
two years later by Pivo 2, which incorporated X-By-Wire
technologies, variable chassis geometry and four ultra-compact
Also making an appearance in 2007 was Mixim, a powerful EV using the
newly developed Super Motor which boasted a top speed of 180km/h and
a range of 250kms. Designed to prove that EV could still have
sporting potential, Mixim was aimed at a generation of future
drivers who have currently fallen out of love with the car.
Two more EV concepts have appeared this year: Nuvu at the Paris
Salon and, earlier in the year, Denki Cube at the New York Show.
Unlike Mixim, Pivo, Pivo 2 and Nuvu, the Denki Cube (Denki is
Japanese for electricity) is based on an existing conventionally
powered vehicle, showing how quickly an effective EV could be
brought to market.
At the same time Nissan has forged alliances with other companies to
speed up the development of many of the technologies central to the
EV’s future. These include development of the powerful disc-type
electric motor with Fujitsu General, Ltd., and the establishment of
AESC with NEC Group to develop the laminated lithium-ion battery.