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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee