The fundamentals of the automobile have been largely unchanged for over a century. With the coming mass adoption of electric vehicles, new opportunities are opening up to reinvent the ways we construct and shape cars and integrate them into our lives.
The EV revolution is also changing the vernacular of the automotive industry. Nissan did just that when the Ariya Concept rolled onto the stage at last year's Tokyo Motor Show, with its simple-yet-powerfully modern aesthetic called Timeless Japanese Futurism, featuring a "shield" front element.
The Nissan Ariya Concept is the first example of an entirely new design direction for the company. It features a spacious, premium cabin with advanced technology and a body that conveys the pure, clean nature of electric cars, which don't need a traditional open grille to let air cool an engine. As a result, designers were able to experiment with the concept's signature V-motion design, creating the "shield."
Traditional hand-held shields used in battle merged function and design, utilizing strong materials with intricate designs meant to communicate prestige and strength. The shield on the Ariya Concept shares the same statement, offering much more than an aesthetic placeholder for a grille. The final look and application is not only striking, it also allows the advanced technology behind it to work through the design elements without interference.
"By replacing the conventional grille with the tech shield – with innovative 3-D texture within that goes beyond aesthetics – we wanted a way to highlight the technology within the vehicle, just behind the surfaces," said Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president of global design at Nissan. "In this case, its advanced technology that helps the Ariya Concept read the road and visualize things the driver can't see making what is invisible, visible."
Merging advanced technology with timeless Japanese design
The Ariya Concept is the ultimate expression of design freedom. The concept's 100% electric vehicle platform allowed for new approaches to existing components, removing fundamental limitations.
Traditional grilles on an internal combustion vehicle have taken all shapes and forms since their inception, but have needed to maintain a level of cooling for the vehicle's engine cooling system and be strong enough to deflect the occasional rogue rock in flight. These functional aspects have limited their design, look and feel.
Since the Ariya Concept has no engine, a grille in the traditional sense is unnecessary. Designers decided to repurpose this space to add a new type of frontal fascia. The shield is constructed as a single piece with a geometric traditional Japanese pattern composed within for a new EV expression while hinting at Nissan's J-DNA.
"The surface has no gaps," explained Program Design Director Giovanny Arroba. "It's smooth like a sheet of silent water, with the kumiko pattern sitting just underneath the surface."
Capturing this stillness was a challenge in itself. Arroba and the design team set to work testing every element of the shield, from the thickness of the material to the amount of metallic flake in the paint that allows the kumiko pattern, reimagined for the EV era, to pop.
To protect the shield and technology within against severe weather and road debris, designers utilized the same durable polycarbonate material found on the car's headlamps. They wanted the shield to not only be tough enough for the job, but also to look stunning, embrace aerodynamic proportions and fully embody the company's new Timeless Japanese Futurism design language.
"Of course, with a concept, we could have taken other direct approaches," Arroba said. "But we wanted to find an authentic balance between the styling intention and mechanical requirements."
A concept rooted in a near-future reality
The Ariya Concept embodies the company's Nissan Intelligent Mobility vision of personal transportation – one where electrification and vehicle intelligence will offer seamless and adaptive travel experiences free of accidents or harmful emissions. Nissan's new design philosophy directly supports this by blending advanced technology, including safety, connectivity and human machine interfaces, with a Japanese minimal approach to seamlessly fit the customer's lifestyle.
The Ariya Concept's shield stands out as one of the primary elements designers focused on that could exist in the real world. The car looks ready to roll down the streets of Tokyo, London or any global city. Features like the award-winning ProPILOT 2.0 advanced driver assistance system, e-Pedal and the e-4ORCE dual-motor all-wheel control system have already been put to the test.
Concept cars have always been a tool to help visualize the future. But the Ariya Concept also shows how future Nissan cars will actually perform.