A car for the digital generation

Nissan's Teatro For Dayz concept will be shown at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show.
Nissan's Teatro For Dayz concept will be shown at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show.PHOTO: NISSAN MOTOR

Nissan's Teatro For Dayz concept will allow the digitally restless to be connected on the go

Owning a car was once a teenager's greatest aspiration. Having a driver's licence confirmed adulthood and driving symbolised the freedom to go where and when you wanted to go .

But the generation that went straight from the cradle to the Internet and on to an ever-expanding universe of mobile devices holds different values.

To them, driving time means time away from the cyberworld.

Nissan general manager for product planning Hidemi Sasaki says: "The generation now getting their driver's licences has always been connected through digital devices, e-mail, social media and so forth.

"What moves these digital natives is capturing experiences in photos and videos and sharing them. Friends respond with 'likes' and share the experience further.

When the car is in drive mode, meters, controls and maps appear on a pure white instrument panel. When parked, Teatro For Dayz transforms into an entirely new device. The entire interior, starting with the instrument panel, becomes a "live" display.

"What's important is not whether something is experienced personally or virtually. What matters is the process of sharing."

Mr Sasaki calls this generation "share natives".

For share natives, excitement comes not from the ownership of material objects, but from using things to connect with friends and share enjoyment.

For them, cars exist outside the orbit of connected life. Many of them describe driving as stressful because they can share their current experience with only the other people in the car.

Mr Sasaki adds: "What share natives want from cars is not the joy of driving or their own private space, but a better way to connect with friends and share experiences."

Which may be one reason for the spurt in popularity of public transport in recent years. On a train or bus, a share native can continue to engage with his device.

This evolution started with Internet usage, which has reached critical mass in different countries at different times.

In Japan, for example, Internet penetration was just 13.4 per cent in 1998. By 2003, the rate had reached 64.3 per cent. This was the beginning of the share-native generation.

Following fast on the heels of the Internet was the spread of mobile phones. In 1999, mobile phone penetration reached 67.7 per cent. Four years later, it had hit 94.4 per cent.

Smartphone growth was even more explosive, expanding from 9.7 per cent in 2010 to 62.6 per cent just three years later. As mobile phones rapidly evolved from a technology only for adults to something every child had to have, share natives skipped the experience of land lines and shared family PCs and went straight to full-time personal connectivity.

Hence, carmakers have increasingly added connectivity to new models. Audi, BMW and MercedesBenz, for example, offer wireless functions in their premium models, while Bluetooth pairing is available in nearly half of all new models.

Nissan is taking it a step further. Through repeated sampling of next-generation customers, Mr Sasaki says Nissan has identified some common car interests among share natives.

"First, they tend to look beyond the car's basic role of transport. They want a car to be a versatile tool for creativity like a smartphone.

"Share natives will use cars in ways we would never imagine. So we thought of designing a car that would serve as a canvas for their inspiration."

Nissan's research indicated that minicars will be the vehicle of choice for share natives. "In addition to being compact, minicars remind them of the handy mobile devices they carry in their pockets," Mr Sasaki quips.

Electric technology is a must for this generation. "Share natives are already accustomed to recharging their devices at home, so electric vehicles fit their lifestyles far better than cars that require regular visits to a petrol station," he notes.

Nissan took all these into consideration when it designed the Teatro For Dayz concept, which will be shown at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show.

Described as "a giant mobile battery", the geeky-sounding car will allow the young and digitally restless to be connected on the go.

When the car is in drive mode, meters, controls and maps appear on a pure white instrument panel. When parked, Teatro For Dayz transforms into an entirely new device. The entire interior, starting with the instrument panel, becomes a "live" display.

Share natives can change Teatro For Dayz's interior design, matching the look to the season, weather, or simply "the vibe of the day". Some might choose to share a dreamy scene with close friends far away. Others might decorate for an online party and share the moment with friends.

The car is fitted with LED screens that enable further self-expression. Any experience in or around the car can be shared instantly via an onboard camera. All the while, the electric vehicle's battery keeps smartphones and other devices juiced up.

Its solid white interior allows infinite possibilities for display. As technology evolves and share natives contribute ideas through feedback, the variety of ways that the interior could serve as a digital theatre will expand, Nissan says.

Its executive design director Satoshi Tai says designing a car like Teatro For Dayz "required us to intentionally not use knowledge and tried-and-true approaches we had amassed".

"For example, through design we typically try to convey a sense of acceleration, power or supreme quality. But these values do not resonate with share natives. If anything, such car traits just call to mind old-fashioned technology that bears little relevance to their lives."

At first it may be surprising to see only a steering wheel and a flat instrument panel, but in this interior, conventional knobs and switches would limit display arrangement and expression.

That is why Nissan adopted voice control and motion sensors for the air-conditioning and audio systems. In drive mode, meters and car navigation data are displayed on the instrument panel. When parked, they all disappear. Seats with bases that resemble balance balls feel radically different from the usual grip of a car seat, further signalling a departure from the conventional.

Nissan says Teatro For Dayz is "a canvas for individual expression". How will the youth of today take to this car? "Just wait and see. They'll share their first experiences on social media," says Mr Tai.

Compiled by Christopher Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'A car for the digital generation'. Print Edition | Subscribe