In my current top five list of my favourite cars in the world, only one is from Japan (the LFA if you’re wondering). The rest are European cars. For a large chunk of my life my favourite cars have always been European cars. I can’t explain why. I have nothing against Japanese cars, I respect cars from the Land of the Rising Sun and I like the way the Japanese make their cars. But I’ve never loved them, well apart from a handful of sports cars and supercars. I suppose one of the key reasons would be my lack of knowledge on the illustrious history of some of Japan’s car companies.
So, given that I’ll be spending the next 12 months or so in Japan, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to go around and learn more about these Japanese car companies. Hopefully a better understanding of them will help me appreciate them more. Well, this was my justification to go around scouring the land for car galleries and showrooms. Tokyo has many tourist spots such as the Tokyo Tower, Tsukuji Fish Market, and Tokyo Disneyland to name a few but what those travel guides don’t tell you about are the number of car-related things to do in this vast metropolis.
Following the STI Gallery and Type One Showroom I had to find somewhere that offered the same level of history and awesome cars. Naturally this led me to Nissan’s Global Headquarters in Yokohama. Okay, technically Yokohama isn’t part of Tokyo but it’s only an hour’s train away so it would be a shame not to go. Or so I kept saying in my mind. The HQ isn’t too far from Yokohama Station and it’s quite hard to miss; it’s a big building with ‘NISSAN’ written quite clearly.
There are two entrances, one from the station and one from the main road. I entered from the road side entrance where you see the Japanese, French (to signify their alliance with Renault), and Nissan flag waving in the wind as if to welcome you in. Parked outside was a red GT-R, Leaf, a few New Mobility Concepts, and a random Renault Kaptur (more on these later). Some of their passenger cars were also display but I stopped looking after I saw a Tiida.
Inside the building there’s two floors dedicated to the Nissan Gallery. The rest of the building is used for office space for the many number of Nissan employees working here. I like to think somewhere in that building someone is designing or working on the next Z Car or GT-R. The second floor are where most of the foot traffic enter as there’s a bridge connecting to the station and a department store on the other side. But who wants to go shopping when there’s all those Nissan cars downstairs?
The rest of the space upstairs were conference or business rooms, possibly to hold special events. Downstairs where were all the metal waited. I made a beeline straight for the GT-R. I’d never sat in a GT-R before so this was quite the treat for me. Two things stood out; 1) the Recaro seats on this were some of the best I’ve had the please of sitting on and 2) the quality is certainly worthy of a car costing this much. I tried to have a play around with the infotainment system but as it was all in Japanese I gave up for fear or breaking something.
I moved on to the Nismo cars parked around the GT-R and the whole line up was there. The Nismo 370Z (Fairlady Z), Juke, and Note were all there to be inspected. No surprises I liked the Nismo Z a lot. The alcantara and Nismo bits, inside and out, really add to the Z’s character and charm. If only they were sold in NZ. In Japan a Nismo Z costs roughly the same as what a ‘normal’ 370Z costs new there. The Juke and Note Nismo felt less special. Oh sure the Recaro seats and alcantara steering wheel were great touches, but the rest of the interior felt like the standard cars.
This being Nissan, instead of having the car’s information displayed on a piece of paper on a stand, each car had a touchscreen display. This showed you the car’s main features, specs, standard and optional equipment, pricing, and even colour choices. It was fully interactive so you could see what the car you were looking at would look like in say, red or silver. Why don’t more places do this?
Having wanting to sit in something a bit more premium I went towards the new Skyline, or Infiniti Q50 as its known elsewhere. Interestingly Nissan do sell the Skyline/Q50 with an Infiniti badge but still as a Nissan. Unlike Lexus, Infiniti isn’t a standalone brand in Japan at the moment. The Q50 isn’t a bad looking car, it’s got some interesting features and inside it certainly felt, looked, and smelt premium. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that a Lexus would be a better buy, or indeed any one of its European rivals. But then again some people just don’t want to follow the crowd.
Next to it was the larger Fuga (Infiniti Q60) which competes against the likes of the Lexus GS, Mercedes E, and BMW 5. This had just received a facelift, which explains the fresh outside but not so fresh inside. Nissan had just launched the hybrid version of its X-Trail SUV so there was a large showcase on the main stage for it. A lady spoke on a microphone explaining the car’s features to whoever listened.
Going away from the “main attractions” of the gallery I had a look at some of Nissan’s less mainstream cars, some have fantastic names such as the optimistaclly named “Dayz Rooz Highway Star”. Don’t let the name fool you though, this is a 660cc kei-car so it’s far from being a “highway star”. Nissan’s funky but ageing Cube sat outside feeling rather excluded.
Further down the gallery, Nissan’s cars of the future were displayed. The EV Leaf was plugged into a charger, the new NV200 EV van was also on show in a bright electric blue colour. Nissan also had an autonomous Leaf on display, something I didn’t even know existed. People say autonomous cars are a few years away but if even mainstream companies such as Nissan are experimenting with them today they might just be closer than we think. This scares me.
What didn’t scare me was the Nissan New Mobility Concept, or NMC. It’s basically a rebadged version of the fabulous Renault Twizy electric car/quadricycle/thing. It’s only available in Yokohama as part of a car sharing scheme for as little as Y1000 a day. It’s a fantastically cool car with scissor doors and a 1+1 seating arrangement sure to make any couple closer afterwards.
In the annoyingly named “History Corridor” it was just that, a corridor giving you the history of the Nissan company. I had hoped to have seen an old 240Z or a Hakosuka here. Well, I sort of did. Like the STI Gallery, Nissan had displayed the timeline of their cars in miniature die cast form. After seeing this I was less annoyed. It was certainly a great sight to see from the first Datsun right up to today’s Leaf. It was a brilliant showcase of how far the Yokohama-based company had come in the last 82 years. It was a great learning experience.
The Nissan Motor Company was established in Yokohama by Yoshisuke Aikawa in 1933. It was the end result of a merger between DAT Jidosha & Co. Ltd and Jitsuyo Jidoosha Co. Ltd. In 1933 Aikawa unveiled a plan to mass produce between 10,000 to 15,000 cars, something never done in Japan before. He achieved this two years later. Having the Port of Yokohama nearby gave Nissan an advantage is exporting their vehicles too. They were the first Japanese car company to have a full-fledged shipment of cars overseas in 1941 with 100 Nissan 180 truck being shipped off to Thailand. Then in 1999 Nissan entered into a ‘Strategic Alliance’ with Renault.
If you come prepared, or at least more prepared than me, then you could take an example of a modern Nissan car out for a short test drive. On that day they had a Nismo Note, Leaf, X-Trail, Skyline Q50, Micra, Juke, and the almighty GT-R available to drive. I’ll definitely be making another trip back there, hopefully the GT-R will still be available to drive. Otherwise I’ll have to settle for the awesome Gran Turismo 6 simulation pods.
The Gallery at Nissan’s very own Global HQ is a great and worthwhile trip for any petrolhead. On the one hand you get to see the variety of cars Nissan makes (who knew they made more than just SUVs and Micras?) but you also feel like you’re in somewhere important, as if a lot of businessing is going on upstairs. My favourite thing about the Nissan Gallery, GT-R aside, was the people there were just as diverse as the cars on display. There were families with young children hopping in and out of cars, you had businessmen in suits eyeing up their next purchase, and you had pensioners admiring the changes of the company they once knew as Datsun.