Design: Cross-bred in Britain: The new Ford is a Nissan designed in the UK for Europe

BILLBOARDS all over the country are pushing a pair of new four-wheel-drive vehicles: Nissan's Terrano II and Ford's Maverick. They are unusual in two ways.

First, they are the same car: a Nissan. Second, this is the first Japanese car model for which design responsibility has lain outside Japan. Although the vehicle is built in Spain, the Terrano II/Maverick was born in Britain - the brainchild of the Nissan European Technology Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire. It is also the first Japanese vehicle designed exclusively for Europe. 'There was a belief that it is difficult to make a four-by-four that satisfies the global market,' said Don Irvine, the project leader.

But its significance goes far beyond this. Nissan hopes the Terrano will finally give the lie to claims - not least those by Ian McAllister, chairman of Ford UK - that Japanese transplant factories are no more than screwdriver plants and that they are gradually eroding Europe's engineering and development skills.

Japanese manufacturers are sensitive to such claims and, when Nissan set up the Cranfield centre in 1988, it knew it would do itself no harm politically. But the main motor was commercial. The decision to give the design to Cranfield was a continuation of its plans to make the cars sold in Europe steadily more European.

'Historically, Japanese cars built in Japan have had significant quality and reliability advantages over the Europeans,' Mr Irvine said. 'Those days are largely past. Now you need better market information.'

Ian Milburn, NETC's deputy managing director, said that it was increasingly important to build cars that suit the European market. Each car coming out of Nissan's Sunderland plant, which started production in 1986, has been less Japanese than the last.

The first, the Bluebird, was a basic model that was at first screwed together from imported parts. Then the number of European (mainly British) parts increased, and local suppliers were encouraged to produce their own designs.

The Bluebird's successor, the Primera, was also largely designed in Japan, though the NETC did have a role in making it feel more European. The suspension was hardened to satisfy European demands for taughter handling, for example. Cranfield was also given full reponsibility for the hatchback version.

The next stage was the new Micra, the small car Sunderland introduced a year ago. The basic shape was decided in Japan, but by involving NETC immediately, the most cost-effective European components could be designed in. 'It made the job of development smoother and more cost-effective,' Mr Milburn said.

The Terrano II took the process to its logical conclusion. The initial concept work was Japanese, then the project was handed over to NETC. It, in turn, brought in engineers from the Barcelona factory and asked Idea in Italy to do the styling.

Ford was involved from the beginning, making suggestions and monitoring the design process, though it never become involved in the detail. The two companies have divided the market between them, with Ford selling the top and bottom of the range and Nissan taking the middle ground.

Despite the original intention, 10,000 of the 60,000 Terranos produced will now be sold in Japan after sales people there saw the vehicle while it was over for testing.

NETC employs 360 people - 60 of them at the Sunderland factory. Seventy are Japanese, though this number is expected to fall, and Mr Milburn hopes to attract staff from Europe. NETC is dwarfed, however, by the technical centre in Japan which employs 10,000 - partly because NETC is not involved in engine or gearbox design.

Nissan concedes that NETC is unlikely ever to become as autonomous as Ford's research and development operation at Dunton, in Essex. An open satellite link allows Cranfield, Japan and another centre in the US to share tasks. Inevitably, they will remain interdependent and Japan will keep its senior role for years to come.

Mr Milburn defended this arrangement. 'I'm determined we will not start saying we are going to use British people because it satifies our egos,' he said. 'The Japanese don't produce airliners. Does that mean Japan is not an engineering nation?'

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff