A few years ago, a wave of internet-fueled utopian ideas were supposed to headline yet another “paradigm shift” (or whatever throwaway bullshit term you wish to substitute) as the Web 2.0 revolution made us all more “open” or “social” or “connected”. Then, most of us woke up and realized that this was all a scheme by a bunch of social maladroits to get rich using our personal data, and we all went back to living our lives.
Nissan hasn’t gotten the memo yet. They’re hoping to take advantage of the “social space” by asking their “fans” on Facebook, Pinterest etc for help in product planning. The first question that comes to mind is “Why?” Have they not seen the infamous episode of The Simpsons, where Homer designs his own car, leading to the demise of Powell Motors? Do they not know that most of the people who spend their time talking about and looking at pictures of cars online have the most obscure tastes that are not reflective of the general public? Anyone who cares enough is going to agitate for the importation of the Elgrand minivan, or a revival of the Pao microcar, (because “…that’s what Americans should be driving“) or a return to body-on-frame construction for the Pathfinder (even though the new car-based platform will let it be a perfect competitor for the Honda Pilot).
It could be that Nissan, like Mazda, is just going to humor their fans by listening to their input and then do nothing about it. Mazda’s campaign to solicit suggestions for the upcoming MX-5 on Jalopnik was a great way to drum up publicity for the car, but at this point, the MX-5 is too far along in the development cycle for any meaningful changes to happen.
The bigger question for me is, doesn’t Nissan trust their own people to do these kinds of things without input from the unwashed masses? Carlos Ghosn took the company from a bloated, money-hemmoraging industrial heifer into the lean, profitable automaker that exists today. The Nissan folks that I’ve met are reflective of the current state of the company, and come from automotive backgrounds that keyboard jockeys like myself can only dream of.
Letting the customer dictate what they want leads to the current generation Volkswagen Jetta and Passat – although bland, it was needed to help revive VW’s underwhelming success in America. Nissan doesn’t need this. They manage to do big volumes with cars that are genuinely good.
The current generation Altima is both a sales success and responsible for dropping a match in the mid-size horsepower powder keg. Something like the Juke, which is so totally out of left field, and manages to sell fairly consistently (though it’s not exactly a volume car in America), could not have been designed by committee. Meanwhile, the sum total of the general public’s buying desires seem to be Versas or other beige sedans with an iPod jack. And the Sentra is still the worst new car I’ve driven.