December 16 – Nissan Global Headquarters, Yokohama
Have you ever had a look at the inside cover of your car’s manual, the page that gives all the important information about the company? If you have, you’ll probably have spotted the manufacturer’s headquarter address, some obscure street in a far-flung country, and started to wonder what kind of place it is. As your mind wanders, chances are you’ll begin to imagine a big tower block with the same badge on top of it that sits on the grille of your car, filled with floors and floors of people in suits zipping back and fore filling in bits of paper that magically transform themselves into shiny new cars. There will probably be some big flags out front, and there might even be a couple of famous models on rotating plinths by the entrance for posterity.
You haven’t thought about this? Oh well, maybe it’s just me then. Anyway, while I was in the Nissan gallery in Ginza, Tokyo the other day, I spotted an advert for a new dealer outlet. This wouldn’t have excited me that much were it not for the showroom’s address – First Floor, Nissan Global Headquarters, Yokohama, Japan. A showroom on the ground floor of the head office of the company that has produced such exciting motors as the GT-R, R392 Le Mans challenger, 350Z and, er, Micra. That has to be worth a 45-minute trip. Given my lengthy history with Nissans and my love of their performance brands, my curiosity as to what the head office of such an institution looks like had to be satisfied. So two days later, I boarded the Metro train bound for Yokohama, armed with my camera, notebook and pen.
I could describe the exterior of the building, situated slap bang in the middle of a massive construction project that aims to add a few more tower blocks to the Yokohama skyline (excuse the pun). But in the interests of saving words, I’ll just direct you back to the opening paragraph. Because it’s a big tall glass building with ‘Nissan’ written on the top, no more, no less.
If you’re a keen follower of Die Hard movies, you’ll know exactly what the entrance hall of this kind of place is like. Light and airy, with lots of glass and brushed metal and a dude sitting at a desk. The tower is a good thirty floors high, and people come and go through the bank of automatic doors all day and all night long. The entrance to the offices is through a sneaky wee gap in the granite wall on the right out of the immediate line of sight, where further guards stand. On the left is a simple escalator going downstairs, and beyond the escalator a massive glass wall stretches the entire depth of the building.
It’s what’s visible through this glass wall that we’re interested in. The panels look out over a massive, deep hall, the back wall of which is covered with a giant LED screen. Cars are scattered around the floor of the gallery, arranged in what seems to be a rather haphazard fashion. Engine parts in glass cases lurk around the edge of the hall, and further cars are parked outside on the quayside of a small dock. Two impeccably-dressed and incessantly smiling women staff an unnecessarily complicated information desk rammed full of maps, leaflets and brochures. Welcome to the world of Nissan.
Perhaps because of the aroma of coffee drifting through the air from the cafe in the far corner, the showroom starts to take on strange properties in my head. It’s as if the whole thirty or so floors above are all the bits of the espresso machine we don’t see, hidden behind the glossy exterior, and the shiny new models on the ground floor are the yummy fresh product that comes out the bottom into the cup. These are the newest Nissans, the cars and ideas that have most recently been rubber-stamped in the boardroom however many floors above.
The white foam on top of the current cup of espresso, to continue the metaphor, is the new Nissan Fuga. The Fuga is one of a plethora of Nissan saloons one can buy in Japan, and its latest incarnation is currently being rolled out in its homeland. The vast majority of these saloons don’t make it out of Asia, but this model will creep into Europe soon under the Infiniti M badge. It’s a fairly pleasing saloon to look at, which is just as well as there are a choice of five for me to peruse under the big LED screen, lined up in varying conservative metallic colours. If we weren’t so snooty about our cars in the UK, the Fuga would be a fair match for an E-Class Merc, 5-Series Bee-Em or S-Type Jag.
The two Fugas on the right rotate forlornly on a pair of turntables, their long snouts hanging over the edge of the table and threatening to knock any passers-by who get too close off their feet. Pleasingly, mucking about with the static display cars is actively encouraged, and as I descend the escalator I watch a group of businessmen hoick the bonnet up on a stationary light silver example before marching round to the rear to check the boot’s golf club capacity. I’d had a chance to inspect the new luxury barge at the Ginza gallery a few nights previous, and whilst not being overly familiar with blue-chip cars I was very impressed with the whole shebang. Inside is wood, electronics and cream leather, outside is alloy and sensible shapes. If such things were available in the UK and if my finances permitted, I’d quite happily have one of these and do something else with the cash I saved by not opting for a premium German brand.
Enough of that, though. For now I wanted to have a good look at the 40th Anniversary edition of the 370Z. It’s been forty years since the Datsun 240Z hit the roads of North America, so an obligatory commemorative edition has been commissioned. Big alloys, special titanium paint, red velour seats (which were bloody comfy, I tell you) and red stitching can be yours for a significant premium. The display model conveniently had a set of golf clubs planted in the boot, just so that you know you’ll be able to take your golf sticks with you on Saturday mornings when you go to tee off. Whoever was responsible for setting up the Z in the gallery clearly did a terrific job, because although I’ve never been a big Z fan, the deep, crisp, pearly paint, chunky Rays wheels and aroma emitted by the leather inside leave me desperately wanting a 370 in this configuration. Good work, marketing bods.
More pissing about follows in an Elgrand, a big, big luxury people carrier. I generally have a deep-seated suspicion of any vehicle that requires the use of a step to get inside, but my reservations melt away as I sink into one of the leather thrones in the rear of the van. You can stretch your legs out from any of the rows of an Elgrand without booting the person in front, and the thing is high enough to allow a small man like myself to stand up with headroom to spare. The array of buttons, dials, levers and screens at the driver’s disposal, coupled with the equally accommodating driver’s chair, makes me think of Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek. It’s almost enough to make me want kids soon.
I’m about to contemplate going for a nap in the back of the Elgrand when my thoughts are disturbed by a plinky-plonky light jazz theme played at very high volume. That would be the one o’clock music, piped through the entire building at the stroke of one to signify the start of lunch hour. Such is the size of the building, though, that the start of lunch break does nothing to alter the frequency of people coming and going from every which way. What interests me most about the headquarters is the way business and pleasure seem to mix. Low-level meetings and informal chats are carried out all over the place – sitting at low tables positioned around the gallery, leaning against the side of cars or over a cardboard cup of brown liquid from the ludicrously overstaffed coffee outlet. Without wanting to sound too presumptious, it seems the merger with Renault has done more to Nissan than necessitate a French flag being hung out front. This doesn’t feel like the head office of some strict conglomerate. The vibe is instead one of an international community of creative folk working together, looking over their latest creations as they work.
I’d be lying if I said the new Nissan Global Headquarters in Yokohama was the most spectacular and interesting thing I ever saw, but it was still damned impressive. As head offices of big companies go, it’s very welcoming, open and pleasant. If nothing else, in my head now I can at least make some kind of connection between the cars on the road and that strange address in the owner’s manual. Now, if only they’d hurry up and get that bloody Fuga out in the UK…