14 January 2017

Nissan turns to ethnographic research to inform the design of new models

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During the futurist panel at the 2017 Automotive News World Congress, Rachel Nguyen, executive director of Nissan’s Future Lab, said understanding what the consumer wants will help brands define their experience. One method Nissan utilizes: ethnographic studies of consumers.

“The more insight you have to a holistic view of that, the product in the vehicle becomes more tailored,” said Nguyen. “Not only in the interior, but packaging, wear and tear, how we think of that whole ownership experience.”

In the process of learning, though, carmakers and suppliers face significant hurdles.

“You kind of stumble into these potential roadblocks,” said Nguyen.

Sometimes issues can be day-to-day. For example, Nguyen highlighted state licensing regulations that make it difficult to put more than two individuals on a lease, a step to shared ownership in the future.

Peter Kosak, executive director of General Motors’ urban mobility programs, agreed, pointing out that these initial projects that many carmakers are doing are crucial to exciting the public about the future of transportation. In his view, regulators should be more accommodating.

“It’s important to learn, to demonstrate efficacy,” said Kosak.

The issues can involve addressing big questions, said Phil Eyler, president of Harman International’s connected-car division. In his role, Eyler not only thinks about interior software and system design but also how the car will communicate with infrastructure.

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