The Nissan March went on sale in 1982, creating a new genre of automobile, the compact car. In the approximately 30 years since the birth of the March, the image and role the compact car plays has changed a lot, and despite its small engine and body size, it is beginning to have appeal and value beyond its performance.
This NTM report, which uncovers the value and appeal unique to compact cars, is brought to you from Takamatsu City, the prefectural capital of Kagawa, Japan's smallest prefecture.
Yasumasa Manabe, who is Company Director of Takamatsu Kotohira Electric Railroad (commonly known as "Kotoden,") and at the same time Company Director of Kagawa Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., and Representative Director of convenience store chain Sunkus & Associates East Shikoku, Ltd., and Kazuhiro Doi, who is in charge of the product planning for the March and Nissan's other compact cars, walked the streets of Takamatsu, discussing the appeal of the compact car in the setting of the compact city of Takamatsu.
From the two men's conversation, it is clear that the concept of "perfect fit" is relevant to the present day. We will report to you from the streets of Takamatsu on the present and future of compact cars, in two installments.
Born in Kagawa prefecture in 1976. After graduating from the economics department of Hitotsubashi University, he returned to his home town after working at a consultancy company, an investment company, and the like. He is currently Company Director of Takamatsu Kotohira Electric Railroad, Company Director of Kagawa Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., and Representative Director of Sunkus & Associates East Shikoku, Ltd. He is involved in the administration of regional infrastructure enterprises, and examines the new relationship between transportation/mobility and the region.
SCPS (Segment Chief Product Specialist) of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. Product Planning Head Office.
He was born in Tokyo in 1960. He joined Nissan Motors Central Research Center in 1985, and after working on automobile noise and vibration, ITS research and as a patent development strategy administrator, he currently supervises the product planning for small cars and is presently exploring new designs for cars that are geared toward the global market.
Getting around on the islands in the Seto Inland Sea
Manabe: Recently an event was held in Takamatsu and the islands in the Seto Inland Sea called "Setouchi International Art Festival 2010." Until now, people living in Kagawa did not have any special interest in the islands, but since an art museum was established on Naoshima island, and people not just from outside Kagawa prefecture but from all over the world have begun visiting the area, the residents have started to realize that perhaps the islands could be a resource for tourism. So they have decided to look at the Seto Inland Sea in a different way, and are building art museums, exhibiting works of art, and holding art festivals. Viewing art exhibits while touring around the islands is a novel experience, and as a result the number of visitors has already reached over 500,000.
Doi: How are you involved in the festival?
Manabe: On the islands that were the stage for the art festival, Shodoshima, an island with a population of around 30,000 that produces soy sauce and olives, and Naoshima, the island with the art museum, Sunkus are the only convenience stores. I assist with the distribution side of things, transporting goods and staff, and providing a distribution route for Sunkus.
Doi: A population of 30,000 makes it quite a large island, doesn't it?
Manabe: Yes, it has the largest population of the islands in Kagawa prefecture.
Doi: When we think of transport on small islands, we picture small cars, but what is it like in reality?
Manabe: Basically people use compact cars, but there are also electric bicycles. If you can picture the geography of the island, there are mountains in the central area, and people live in the areas at the foot of the mountains. Some of the islands are very hilly, so it is difficult to get around on foot or by regular bicycle. The islands also have an older population than the cities, so how to ensure mobility for those people is a big issue. It is fine if there are buses like on the large islands, but it is difficult to run a bus service unless there is a certain size of population. We have to think of new measures, such as the use of on-demand buses.
Doi: As people grow older and it becomes difficult to drive a car or ride a bicycle, public transportation is essential, isn't it?
Manabe: There are quite a lot of people who come from the islands to Takamatsu to go to hospital. In those cases, people often have problems because of transportation difficulties. The big issue from now on is providing transportation to those places that people need to go to.
Linking towns, bicycles and cars, public transportation
The unusual design of Takamatsu's main shopping street, with a cycle path down the center
The cycle parking area in Marugame-machi ichibangai, with its low fee of 100 yen per day
Doi: As a region, is there a future vision for the transportation infrastructure?
Manabe: In Takamatsu City the current experiment is to relocate the population, which is spread out in the suburbs, to the center of the city where possible, so that people can use public transportation for hospital visits, shopping, and so on. An example of this is the suggestion that large shopping malls in the suburbs be moved to the city center. Nationally, there are many cities in which large shopping malls have been opened in the suburbs, leaving the city centers deserted, but in Takamatsu City the shopping district is comparatively lively.
Doi: The concept is "a compact city," isn't it? The town planning seems to be successful in Takamatsu, with its straight roads. Are there any particular transport characteristics?
Manabe: Most people use public transport such as trains and buses to commute to work or school, and use cars to go to the mountains or sea, or to go to the suburbs to shopping malls, etc. When you think about parking lot availability and about going out drinking, the town center is not really suited to cars. I think it is necessary to provide alternative transport options and to focus on bicycles in the city center. Actually, the local government is also putting effort into making the town center an area mainly for bicycles, and it is really noticeable how many people get around the center by bicycle. Takamatsu has low rainfall, and is a compact town with little undulation. It is perfectly suited to cycling. There are many rental bicycles available in the town, and many cycle lanes and bicycle parks have been created there. I think public transportation, cars and bicycles are used in a well-balanced way in Takamatsu.