A Visit to Nissan US

Monday, 20 January 2014 15:30
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Go Nissan!One of the best experiences of the trip. 


 While I was in Huntsville walking around the Davidson Space Center, I received an unexpected email from Steve Yaeger, Nissan’s Manager of Technology and Motorsports Communications. Apparently, somebody at Nissan had come across the blog and liked it, and shortly after that they also saw the Petrolicious interview, and then a sharp-eyed Nissan guy saw that I was in Huntsville, which was not far at all from Nissan’s US headquarters and factory in Franklin and Smyrna, TN, respectively.

Steve and I exchanged a few emails, and we coordinated a visit the following week, which precipitated my Midwest loop (from the previous post.) That in turn led to my 600 mile blast over to central Tennessee from eastern Oklahoma, which in turn led to me getting to Franklin and hitting the hay around 3am the night before my visit.

Due to my previous job, I’m no stranger to operating effectively on very little sleep, so I had no problem showing up at Nissan HQ to meet Steve and a video camera operator a few hours later. We had a little coordination chat about what we’d be doing over the next couple of days, which involved getting video of my visit to the Lane Motor Museum, the Nissan manufacturing plant in Smyrna, a meet ‘n greet with a lot of Nissan designers and employees in the studio at headquarters, and breakfast and a send-off down the Natchez Trace Parkway the next morning from the Loveless Café, all of which sounded pretty fantastic to me. They were also nice enough to get me a hotel room for the evening, which was very comfy and very appreciated.

We kicked off the day shooting some “arrival” video in front of the headquarters building, and then Steve jumped in the car with me and we took off for the Lane Motor Museum with camera crew in tow. The Lane museum specializes in European cars for the most part, and has a pretty eclectic collection, including some of the largest groups of microcars and Tatras in any museum in the US. Nissan has a deal with the museum where they store and/or display a number of historic or otherwise significant Nissan vehicles, and Nissan brings people (like me) by for various tours and functions. When we got to the museum, we put the car on “display” on the sidewalk right in front of the entrance doors and went on in.

Pulling in to Nissan HQ Nissan US Headquarters Taking video of me taking pictures

The staff at the Lane was great. We got to walk around with two of the curators who were able to explain a lot about the really unusual cars they had on display, as well as take the “basement tour”, where they kept a huge number of cars that weren’t on display to the public, including an entire room full of historic Nissan cars. I got to sit in the number 83 Nissan GPT ZX-Turbo, which was originally driven by Geoff Brabham in the IMSA GTP Championship, which is a series I used to watch almost religiously in high school. This car won Nissan the championship in 1989 and 1990, breaking the stranglehold that the Porsche 962s had on the series up to that point.

A couple of Tatras and a French air-propelled car Job 1: The first vehicle off the Nissan assembly line in Smyrna in 1983 Some of the microcars in the museum. Far left is actually a bumper car.
A Messerschmitt KR200 microcar. Street legal and everything. I didn't take notes, so I'm not sure what this is...a predecessor to the Reliant Robin three wheeler, maybe Very stylish
This 300ZX was part of the "raced at LeMans" display They also had one of these in pieces in the restoration shop The elusive Renault 5 Turbo 2
One of Sam Posey's old CanAm cars GTP, baby Let's go racing
A rare Datsun SPL-212, two generations prior to my car A '67 Datsun pickup, perfectly restored The crazy headlights on one of the Tatras

When we got down to the basement, I also got to sit in the number 46 BRE Datsun 510 that was driven to several championships by John Morton (who I got to meet at that car show during the summer in Illinois.) For a little perspective on the history of this car, check out this classic video of the car in action.

The car I was sitting in was the real deal—this was the actual championship-winning car, which was pretty amazing, and yet another experience I hadn’t expected to have when I woke up that morning.

One very strong Datsun L16 motor in the 46 car The TransAm series-winning #46 BRE Datsun 510 Driven by one Mr. John Morton
Another angle I seem to fit just fine in all these race cars... One of Paul Newman's old 300ZX race cars

After I wiped my drool off of the cars, we visited the restoration shops at the museum, shot a little more video, and then got back on the road to the factory in Smyrna, about a 25 minute drive. When we got to the factory, we pulled right up on the sidewalk and parked it in “display” position in front of the entry doors again, and went inside. 

In front of the main entrance to the Smyrna factory They had this neat 1960 L320 pickup in the lobby The Nissan plant. They also make the batteries for the Leaf here.

I met a few more of the guys at the factory who’d seen the blog and really liked the car, then we went back to watch an orientation video and take the tour. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed on the tour, which was a shame since the factory was really amazing. The tours are conducted via tram since the place is so huge (the main aisle through the factory is over a mile long), and we got our own tram with me, Steve, and our camera guy on board with the tour guide and tram driver.

This was sort of the motorhead’s version of a visit to the Willy Wonka factory, as we got to see almost every stage of car assembly. The first stops were the welding and sheet metal stamping areas, where flat sheet metal was stamped into body panels and then those panels were welded together by robots. The stamping machines were huge, individually the size of small buildings. Overhead cranes retrieved and loaded the stamping dies into each machine, and some were so large that they were stamping out the entire side of an SUV body in one shot. All of the stamping machinery was Japanese (Komatsu, Asahi Seiki, and others), as were all of the welding and assembly robots (FANUC), likely adopted from techniques developed in their plants in Japan.

The tour didn’t go into the painting areas or the final inspection areas, but we did hit everywhere else, including body assembly, drivetrain insertion, wiring and harnessing, and glass installation. Everything was assembled using a “just in time” methodology, and they had little robotic carts running around the factory floor delivering the right parts for the right cars to the right places just as they were needed. The line was building a mix of vehicles simultaneously, and it was interesting to see an Altima followed by a Maxima followed by an Infiniti SUV, all on the same line, all at the same time, and watch the parts delivery systems marry all the right components for all these different vehicles together in all the right places. It’s a mind-boggling automation and coordination project, and it was amazing to see it all running so quickly and smoothly.

After our tour was over, we met up with the factory guys again (who gave me a nice Nissan fleece and scarf to go with it so I could look sporty when driving with the top down), then we got back on the road to headquarters.

A little swag from my friends at Nissan

Steve had scheduled a “meet and greet”, and I wasn’t really sure what that entailed until we got back to HQ. He had me pull around the side of the building and through a roll-up door that led to the “studio”, which was a carpeted room with even lighting and photo-friendly neutral and blended walls. There were all kinds of cars from all kinds of manufacturers parked outside the studio, and they use the space to check out Nissan cars as well as compare them to examples of competitor’s vehicles.

I pulled into the studio space, put the top down so the interior was easy to see, and then proceeded to be very surprised at the parade of Nissan employees who came in to check out my little Roadster. There were dozens of people checking the car out—designers, marketing people, managers, everybody—and a lot of them had obviously read the blog, as they asked some pretty specific questions about the places I’d been and how I’d prepped the car.

Little car in the big studio Nice lighting I probably should have washed it first
They were a little shy at first... ...but they gradually warmed up ...and eventually got very friendly with the car.

I was a little overwhelmed that a big car company like Nissan would not only pay attention to a little old Datsun driving around for a few months, but also devote as much time and energy to both making sure that I got a good tour and that the Nissan folks got a chance to have a look at the car. They really rolled out the red carpet for me and the car, which is a pretty remarkably generous gesture.

Due to hopping around all over Tennessee all day, we hadn’t had a thing to eat, so after about an hour of chatting with the Nissan staff around the car, Steve and I bailed out and headed over to the hotel to get me checked in for the evening. The hotel also had a pretty nice restaurant attached to it, so I got both a tasty dinner and a comfy hotel room courtesy of Nissan US.

After dinner, Steve had to head off for the airport (driving his sporty track-prepped Maxima from a previous Nissan customer driving experience at the racetrack), so I took a drive into Nashville and wandered around a bit, although I cut it a bit short for the evening due to temperatures in the teens and a corresponding lack of feeling in my extremities. After a long day (and a long drive the night before), I got back to the hotel and passed out immediately.

The next morning, Steve met me at the hotel so he could lead me to the last part of our video shoot, a breakfast outing at the famous Loveless Café & Hotel.  We met our camera guy there, and did some more “arrival” shooting as well as a few glamour shots in front of the Loveless sign, then went in for some breakfast (with really tasty biscuits). The plan afterward was to drive about a quarter mile up the road to the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway and get some more video of me heading out for points south, concluding my visit to Nissan. We set up a camera on the inside of the windshield to get a little in-car footage of me driving (with the top down, even though it was freezing—we figured it’d look better) and headed down the Trace for a few miles.  We were also going to get some more car-to-car footage and some wrap-up comments, but ironically the camera car broke down with electrical problems, so we had to make do with some shots of me just driving off into the distance.

The famous Loveless Cafe at the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway I did not run him over Getting the point-of-view camera installed in the car
Steve's badass track Maxima   Glam shot outside the cafe

This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, and like most highlights, it was completely unexpected. Big thanks to Nissan first for even noticing the trip blog, and second for thinking it was something they’d like to share with their employees and making the effort to do so. It’s great to see that real car geeks have completely infiltrated Nissan, and that I was able to share a little of the trip and the car with them.

Next: Nashville and Memphis


UPDATE: Nissan finished their article/video from my visit. Article is here, and the video is below. Enjoy!


UPDATE #2: Japanese version of the video from Nissan Japan


#1 Mom 2014-01-21 04:10
AWESOME !! So happy for you. This was an experience of a lifetime !
She did a good job, and if I am not mistaken, I think I saw a little puffed up in the wheels. Way to go girl !!
#2 67Roadster 2014-01-21 04:23
Again - Great write up and Pictures!! Most Awesome!!! Will Nissan make the videos public?
#3 lectacave 2014-01-21 14:15
Ah, your mom is right - she DID do an excellent job! Were those designers having fun through the years or what? So many cool vehicles! That 3-wheeler with the wood paneling - priceless. You do indeed look like you belong in those race cars. What an awesome experience! Kudos to you! PS: Looks like a great place to meet guys, ladies. Better than Alaska. :)
#4 laceytrynn 2014-01-21 15:37
what a great experience…mutu al appreciation all around!
#5 Mom 2014-01-24 14:39
What a great video, You look so handsome. I loved the way they referred to the Datsun as your "Fair Lady"
#6 lectacave 2014-01-24 14:49
Well. That video was just fantastic! Go on with your mojo!!!
#7 Zippy67roadster 2014-01-24 16:24
The trip just keeps on getting better! I was at the Lane Museum last new years with the wife. It is a neat place. I really wish I could have been there for the Nissan tour. Looking forward to you getting back to town so I can hear some great stories first hand.
#8 sk8rchk 2014-01-24 16:59
Fantastic video! Your famous "Ferris"!
+1 #9 danabart 2014-01-24 17:10
The video rocks. What a great addition to the photos and narratives if the trip. I may be looking at Nissan when it's time to replace Michelle's car. We'll done!
#10 Janice 2014-01-24 17:18
Bailee and I just watched the video. Awesome! I'm so glad they rolled out the red carpet; as they should. It's not everyday Scott Fisher shows up :P
#11 FairladySPL 2014-01-25 17:26
Jeez, Scott, what next? :lol: The Nissan factory video featuring you and your car will circulate for many years, you know. I already downloaded it in case the internet ever runs out. Big laugh when the camera car broke down. I imagine there was a Nissan tow truck, like the Nissan forklift I saw in the plant.
#12 Dave 2014-02-07 06:17
Nissan is getting more mileage out of your mileage. Outstanding!
#13 lectacave 2014-02-07 09:18
#14 Mom 2014-02-07 09:43
Once again very impressive!
Sayonara Fisher San….

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