Searching for the Nissan 360

In front of me was the friendly, design-award-winning Micra, vaguely reminiscent of the wildly popular, limited-edition 1991 Figaro. The Micra is as close to Mickey Mouse's family sedan as a car can be and is trimmed inside like a 1950s radio. Fakelite Bakelite trim pieces and knobs are the perfect complement to the bold instruments. The engine is a super-torquey 1.5-liter turbo-diesel four that scoots. The Micra has become Europe's best-selling Nissan, and it was easy to imagine them in America.

"The next-generation Micra has been developed for global application," admitted Jack Collins, Nissan product planning VP. "This is the third generation, and it's about mid-cycle now."

"Would that new one be about two or three years out?" I asked.

"You can use your own name for that quote," Collins answered.

I jumped from the Micra to the Moco. Uh-oh. The Mexicans were having their pictures taken in front of the Moco. They were laughing and mugging for the camera. Something was up.

"What does moco mean in Spanish?" I guessed at the joke, correctly.

"You don't want to know," said one of them as the others laughed.

"Oh, but I do," insisted the eight-year-old boy in me.

"It's the stuff that comes out of your nose," he said.

"Snot?" I asked.

"Yes."

Septjean 2

"Spelled the same?"

"Exactly."

"Wow," said I. "You haven't had a good one like this since the Chevy Nova." (No va means "doesn't go.")

I left them laughing, but I was not laughing when I still couldn't find a 360 to drive.

It was lunchtime, and I took the moment to leaf through the press material. Here was a list of all the cars and the countries in which each is sold. There was no 360. I was feeling uncomfortable. I read further. "I hope you will enjoy your 360 experience and that it provides you with a fresh look at Nissan as a truly global, truly bold, truly thoughtful company."

Well. It wasn't very thoughtful to trick me like that, was it? There was no 360. It was 360 degrees of Nissan. I had flown to San Fran-cisco, I spent a day driving cars we may or may not see in the United States two or three years from now (according to me), and I flew home the next day. My notes reveal the following:

* In 1999, Nissan had twenty-four platforms worldwide. For 2005, that has been reduced to fifteen, with the top five accounting for 91 percent of total volume.

* The next-generation M45 will be built on the Z platform, which is also the base of the FX sport-ute and the G35 sedan.

* The Murano's CVT manages 240 pound-feet of torque, the highest such application in the world.

* The 2007 Altima will enter the United States with a fuel-cell option in late 2006.

* In Japan, Nissan cars with intelligent brake assist and a feature called "inching" have been approved for sale. This feature slows the car when approaching another (say, in a traffic jam), then automatically creeps the car forward. It drives itself in rush hour. It's "probably" coming to the States.

* The 2006 hybrid Altima uses Toyota parts tuned by Nissan for performance. "We don't believe we can sell this technology on mileage. It must be performance," said Collins. "The industry trend is toward power." The Altima, Nissan's highest-volume vehicle in the United States, needs that hybrid option to meet increasingly difficult CARB standards.

There may have been no 360 to drive, but if you go to automobilemag.com, you can find out as much as I found out about the cars I did drive.

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