Home » The Nissan Z Is Not Selling Well So Let’s See If We Can Help By Fixing The Design

The Nissan Z Is Not Selling Well So Let’s See If We Can Help By Fixing The Design

Altered Nissan Z Ts2
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How do we find the stories that hopefully entertain, enlighten, and educate you, our wonderful readers? Two years ago we used to scribble our bad ideas on scraps of paper, throw them into a wok, and Jason would close his eyes and pick something out. These days we rely on an army of highly trained media raccoons diving through automotive dumpsters. When they return to the Autopian substation (accessed via secret stairway, hidden behind a fake Harbor Freight tool chest in Beau’s private workshop) empty-pawed we just find stuff on Twitter. Last week I stumbled across a whole thread of people talking about the current Nissan Z like it was Schoedinger’s enthusiast car. The Z seems to exist on websites and in reviews, but there have been very few sightings of them in the wild. It’s one of those cars released to a great of hype and buildup, but in two years since its birth has seemingly completely dropped off the radar. I obviously have never seen one, because it’s not available here even though the UK is RHD like Japan and buys more enthusiast cars than anywhere else in Europe. There’s no business case for it apparently, and ever-tightening European emissions legislation played a part in this decision as well (wait a minute, I thought my shouty little island had voted to cast off such European tyranny?).

After reading contemporary reviews and consulting with our very own Canadian automotive Chat GPT equivalent, Thomas, it seems one of the main problems with the Z is that of positioning. Tracing a direct lineage back to the reborn 350Z of 2002, underneath the current Z is essentially a two decades old car at this point and doesn’t really offer the driving experience required against more modern competitors like the cheaper GR86 or the refinement against more expensive rivals like the Toyota Supra. Although it starts at $42k, you don’t get a mechanical LSD until the Performance trim which is a stiff $10k step up over the price of the base model. It’s simply too expensive for what it is, consisting as it does of very warmed-over 370Z leftovers.

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How a car is placed in the market, according to the estimated purchase price, trim levels, and optional equipment availability is not the purview of the studio design team. Likewise, neither are decisions about what platform a car is going to use, or how much part content has to be carried over from existing cars. These high level corporate decisions will be made by the marketing and product committees, although the chief designer or his delegate will be in those meetings because they will have a say, but the design studio can and does come up with proposals on their own. After all, all it essentially costs the design team is time and resources they already have to hand. Sometimes they will come up with something that is simply too good not to build, but it might have to sit around for a couple of years until the conditions are right for it to gain approval to move forward to the next stage. The car I worked on after the L663 Defender, had several different versions sitting around in model form, ready to go after the initial release.

A Little Bit Of Z History (Again)

1999 Nissan 240Z Concept
1999 Nissan 240Z Concept
2002 Nissan 350Z
Nissan 350Z
Nissan 370Z
Nissan 370Z

Nissan did something similar at the 1999 Detroit show when they revealed the 240Z Concept. It was a bit of a rush job having gone from sketch to model in a scarcely believable 12 weeks, but generated sufficient interest for a totally different production car to emerge from the Nissan Design America studio as the 350Z in 2002. The 350Z sold around 200k units – not too shabby. But the successor 370Z fared much worse, selling less than half despite being on sale for about three years longer. Why should this be? The thing about enthusiast cars is they cannot sell in enough volume purely to enthusiasts alone: they have to appeal to mainstream customers as well. Someone who wants driving thrills and performance above other considerations may put up with compromises in engine refinement, ease of use, gas mileage, or suspension harshness, but regular customers will not, no matter how well it performs on paper. For those customers, it’s all about the curbside appeal. It appears Nissan understood some of this with the Z, giving the new 2022 model a more cohesive, subtly retro-influenced exterior design, but apart from adding more power didn’t do a great deal to bring the underlying engineering more up to date.

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While I don’t think the design of the Z is bad, there are of course a couple of issues forcing compromises in areas that I think could be done better. The first of these is money, as in not spending enough of it. Having to reuse the body in white (the unadorned structure of the car without any parts or external panels) from the 370Z means the roof line is less than ideal. Secondly, the need to slavishly reference the original 240Z has forced the area around the headlights of the Z into some funny shapes, not helped by the large rectangular grill opening that dominates the nose of the car. Since I’m no longer a junior exterior designer for Land Rover but head of the prestigious Autopian Design Studio, we don’t have to worry about such meaningless trifles as engineering budgets, unless David has blown it all on Aztek-related shenanigans. I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring very real cost constraints just to make easy changes on paper – but I do want to see if spending a bit more wisely could improve the appeal of the Z away from its very externally obvious 370Z underpinnings.

How The Old 370Z Holds The Current Z Back

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I’ve fed images of both the 370Z and the current Z into the Computer-Rendering Autopian Photos mainframe and made a GIF switching between the two. Peter normally takes care of this sort of mundane task but as we found out a few weeks ago, he doesn’t actually exist. So I had to make it myself. What a bloody liberty. Having the high point of the roofline as the header rail (where the windshield meets the roof) isn’t automatically a bad thing, but it needs to be handled with care. Cars like the Nissan Juke and Land Rover Evoque have both done it in the past, but the difference between those cars and the Z is they have the roof and rear windshield defined clearly as two separate surfaces and parts of the car. The Z does not. Its roof line just becomes the rear windshield and tailgate, without a distinctive change in direction to disseminate between the two surfaces. It makes for a lazy line with no tension, reduces the amount of volume inside the passenger cabin, makes the door apertures smaller, and forces the rear windshield into a shallower angle, reducing rearwards visibility. Let’s see what happens if we alter it slightly, by pulling the roof line up and increasing the angle of the tailgate:

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I think this is much better, with a more clearly defined separation between roof and tailgate, and results in a larger side glass area for greater visibility, a more airy cabin, and a bigger door opening for easier ingress and egress. It helps define the proportions better and ties the car more closely to its forebear. For the non-enthusiast customer, a car like the Z is as much a style choice as it is anything else, and no one likes banging their head on the cant rail and ruining their hair every time they get in or out.

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Moving on to my other bone of contention with the Z is the nose. The main issue is that big black rectangular grill opening, and how it affects everything happening around it. If you look at the surface underneath the headlights, you can see it has to curve upwards quite sharply to meet the line coming off the hood. This gives the Z a bit of an upside-down ice-cream scoop thing going on. Look at the image above and you can see what I mean.

Torch And I Had The Same Thoughts, Which Is Disturbing

Before Jason knew a real car designer, he identified the same problem and had a go at remedying it himself. At the front of the car, you have to be careful when altering things because of airflow requirements and the positioning of various sensors. We can see the Z has what is probably the active cruise sensor in the lower half of the grill opening so we can’t cover that up. There’s also a parking sensor visible just below the headlight, and we can’t move that without a load of tedious meetings and engineers complaining, so I’m leaving that surface well alone.

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I’ve made the leading surface of the hood angle downwards a bit more sharply, so the surrounding surfaces don’t have to move so much to meet it. This means we can keep the original intent of the designers with the grill opening, which was to visually reference the original 240Z. I’ve also taken some Z (vertical axis) height out of the air vent, just to give it a bit more room to breathe in the bodywork surrounding it. Some of this could possibly be alleviated by changing the shape of the headlight unit, but without examining a Z close-up in the metal it’s hard to know exactly what the surfaces are doing here, so I’ve left the lights as they are. Also, after the body-in-white lights are probably the next most expensive part to tool up (easily into millions), so you really don’t want to be changing those on a whim.

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Finally, let’s move around to the rear three-quarter view and see what the changed roofline and increased angle of the tailgate look like. I think this is much better and doesn’t fundamentally alter the character of the car.

Alright because I’m not a monster let’s put all this into some gifs to make Peter’s job easier, and so you can compare the changes I’ve made.

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The newly released Nismo version of the Z does get a new nose which helps improve the Z a lot, but there’s one small problem. The monkey’s paw has curled yet again because it’s only available as an automatic that starts at $65k. That really was a product planning meeting I needed to be in. I’ve added a picture of it here, so you can compare the official Nissan effort with my own changes for the standard car.

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When the first 350Z appeared in 2002 it was a smooth, solid-looking coupe with some interesting details that didn’t lean too heavily into the retro-wave that was fashionable at the time. Existing simply as a modern Z car was enough, and customers responded. When the 370Z replaced it in 2008 Nissan lent far harder into a JDM-yo! vibe with quirky graphics and almost cartoonish proportions and volumes, that visually looked a lot heavier and with its plunging roofline and bulging surfaces, a lot more compromised. Sales fell off a cliff, and with the new Z Nissan is attempting a course correction, returning to a warmer, more nostalgic look that pulls influences from across the Z-car timeline. The problem is this has resulted in a tension between what the aesthetic promises, and what the 370Z underpinnings can actually achieve. It’s a bit like me suddenly dressing like a normal person, and not looking like I’ve just walked out of a satanic death cult meeting. I might look more approachable, but I’d still be the same cantankerous gobshite I’ve always been underneath.

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Have I helped make the Z a more saleable, approachable prospect, or would Nissan be better off resorting to tried and tested sales boosting methods like lopping $5k off the price and bolting in an LSD as standard? Or maybe, and here’s a crazy notion: bring the fucking thing to Europe.

All images courtesy of Nissan Media

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Dan Bee
Dan Bee
1 month ago

Easy one. Improve outward visibility: lower the beltline, thin the pillars, increase the size of the windshield and side windows. The rest is fine.

In other words, make driving enjoyable again and don’t benchmark the Camaro.

Cyko9
Cyko9
1 month ago

I like the new Z, but I like your edits more. Still, I’m not in the market to buy one, just look at it.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago

Great tweaks all around, I like it. But the reason the Z isn’t selling is because no sports cars are that are not primarily show pieces for the wealthy.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
1 month ago

Adrian your changes are both subtle and dramatic. They’re amazing. Much better than what Nissan made.

I can barely believe I’m looking at the same pictures as people who say it’s hard tell the difference.

You’ve taken something awkward and unsettled, and turned it svelte and athletic without changing the overall volume more than fractionally.

The only thing I would like slightly better is if the crease in the side wasn’t softened quite as much. It definitely should follow the line you drew more softly instead of the weird upward slope it has in production. Maybe halfway between creased and softened, but absolutely, definitely following the path you created.

Last edited 1 month ago by PaysOutAllNight
Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
1 month ago

Price the car at $38,000 with a manual and LSD. There, I fixed it.

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Oh no!

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Let’s do what you suggest and charge $41,000

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