Below is a release article that was circulated around the time the micra was first due for release in Australia.
European Car Of The Year On Sale in June
Nissan's super-mini car, the Micra - manufactured in England and the only Japanese-designed car to win the European Car Of The Year Award - makes its Australian debut during June.
Powered by a 1.3 litre double overhead cam engine and with the automatic models featuring Nissan's renowned shiftless Continuously Variable Transmission, the Micra gives Nissan world-beating artillery for the company's first entry into Australia's ultra-competitive urban size compact car segment.
The Micra is the first Nissan product not imported to Australia from Japan.
All Australian Micras will be fully imported from Nissan's state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Sunderland, England. The 'greenfield' Sunderland plant was opened in 1986 and, in 1993, with 182,207 cars shipped to foreign markets, Nissan was Britain's largest car exporter - ahead of traditional export winners, Rover and Ford.
There are three models in the Australian Micra lineup - the base model LX which is a three-door hatch, the SLX which is a five-door hatch and the sporty Super S, available only as a three-door hatch.
All are powered by Nissan's new 1.3 litre 16-valve engine (code name CG13DE) which produces 55kW of power at 6000rpm and 103Nm of torque at 400Orpm. Micra's spirited performance is matched by class- leading fuel economy as low as 4.51/100 under the AS2877 measurement.
Front suspension is independent struts with coil springs, while at the rear, Nissan features a compact five-link design with coil springs. Sporty Super S models gain ABS brakes.
All compact cars are designed primarily for urban use and it is in this environment that the new Micra offers consumers a breakthrough benefit with the Nissan Continuously Variable Transmission (N-CVT) - the automatic transmission available on SLX models.
The N-CVT beats conventional automatics by a comfortable margin and is exceptionally easy to operate, with the computer doing all the work of optimising engine revolutions road speed, transmission selector position and throttle opening to achieve the best performance and fuel economy.
At the heart of N-CVT is a steel belt and set of pulleys with variable groove width - an arrangement used in other CVT systems. But instead of a conventional multi-plate hydraulic clutch, N-CVT features an electromagnetic powder clutch which takes up the drive more efficiently and smoothly.
The system automatically goes into neutral when the engine is idling and the car is at rest, producing further fuel efficiency. Drive mode (D) is reactivated when the accelerator is pressed.
By continuously changing the speed ratio, the N-CVT system allows the engine to operate at low levels of fuel consumption, irrespective of vehicle speed and produces levels of fuel economy far superior to those of a conventional automatic system.
Micra is very much a European compact car. Nissan's Technology Centre in Cranfield, England, was involved in the design and development from its earliest stages and the result is a compact car with clearly European character and catering to European tastes in dynamic performance and specification.
In fact, when Micra production commenced at Sunderland over 80 per cent local content had been achieved.
Like their European counterparts, Australian drivers will find the Micra is at home in the city, on the freeways or on country roads. For example, a road condition not found in Japan but common to British and Australian drivers - the roundabout - was considered when developing Micra's ride and handling package.
Micra offers a deceptively large interior space within its compact body style, excellent all-round visibility and short overhangs front and rear for easy city operation and its 9,20Omm turning circle is one of the best.
Coming on the tail of two outstandingly successful new model introductions - the 200SX sports car and Maxima prestige sedan - the new Micra was welcomed to Nissan Australia's product lineup by Managing, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr Leon Daphne.
"When we announced the Micra to our Nissan Australia dealer team, the reaction was the most enthusiastically positive I have ever seen to a new model announcement," Mr Daphne said. "The dealers can see this world-beating entry level car will bring a large number of people into their showrooms who may have never previously shopped Nissan products but who can now experience all facets of our industry-leading customer satisfaction program which will see them remain loyal Nissan customers for many years to come."
The Micra was the third all-new model introduced to the Sunderland plant in six years - a pace unlikely to be matched by any other European vehicle manufacturer.
According to Ian Gibson, Managing Director of Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK), the goal was to build the highest quality small car in Europe and that required a, commitment to people, buildings, plant and equipment - an all-up investment of 500 million pounds. Nissan's total investment in British production now exceeds 900 million pounds.
Against the UK-built Primera range, Micra has:
An extra 1600 people were required to be employed and trained - and such is the esteem with which the Nissan plant is held in Northern England, some 32,000 applications were received.
One of the star performers in the Micra production process is the 5,000 tonne transfer press - one of the largest in Europe - that stamps out the one-piece body sides at the rate of 12 per minute in a six-stage fully automated process.
Local British steel is used throughout and the lines have 122 robots with 80 per cent automatic spot welding.
Efforts to improve the operator environment include the abolition of the noisy line grinding process, a quiet-running electric monorail in place of the noisier chain conveyor and a new system of delivery at the assembly lines for heavy items such as wheels and seats.
The engine assembly facility handles three 'families' of engines of five different types, covering up to 52 variants, to support three Nissan models being built across Europe (Micra, Primera, Serena). This line is capable of producing up to 100 units per hour and has one of the highest number of engine variants on a single high volume line in Europe.
Completed bodies go through a 12-stage phosphating process for corrosion protection before moving on to the sealing, surface and colour coating.
The water-bome painting system works on the voltage block method in which the paint is 'charged' in a separate container before application. As the bodyshell in an earthed body, the highly electrostatically charged paint is literally 'drawn' onto metal, minimising paint wastage. Nissan is the only vehicle manufacturer in the UK with this advanced system, placing the company well ahead of planned solvent emissions standards of the future Environment Protection Act.
Testing procedures are extensive; each car off the line is driven for up to 2 kms on the plant test track while other checks during production include a test of the ABS system, image processing for the headlight set and a helium test for the fuel tank where the fully-assembled tank is charged with helium and placed in a low-pressure cabinet to check for leaks.
Similarly, in component supply, Nissan's Sunderland plant has rewritten the industry's 'Best Practice' book. The average industry standard for inventory holding is 20 days, at Sunderland it is two days - five times better than the next best performer.
Using a computer-controlled system of 'synchronous supply' under which parts are delivered to the line just when they are needed, Nissan has been able to shorten component supply times dramatically. In one case there is a margin of just 10 minutes.
Items sourced from the UK mainland arrive by truck, with deliveries up to four times per day. For Micra, Nissan extended its 'milk-round' collection system, started in the Midlands, to cover parts of Hertfordshire.
In this system, a single parts hauler makes a regular tour of Nissan's parts suppliers in an area, collecting from each one before heading to the Sunderland plant. This reduced road miles required for delivery of Micra components by 2.3 million miles per year. Previously, each supplier made individual haulage arrangements which wasted resources and added to traffic congestion.
Environmental matters come high on the priority list for the plant and the products it produces. Nissan was the first plant in Britain with the new system for water-borne paints and in addition, the company pioneered a recycling process for offcuts from plastic fuel tank manufacture - each tank now includes 30 per cent of recycled material. Self-consumption of scrap and off-cut plastic material avoids potential landfill requirements.
Don't be fooled by the cute looks. Micra's 'bubble-shape' body was designed from the outset to provide a safe cocoon for occupants - it has a high rigidity structure with high levels of impact absorption, reinforced A- pillar and roof and side door beams.
An easy-build program and high quality were also top priorities - as evidenced by the one-piece body side pressings. These not only improve appearance and accuracy of build with better panel fit and consistent door shutline margins, but also contribute to improved productivity by reducing weld operations and also reduce potential panel corrosion at joins.
In designing the body structure, Nissan used finite element analysis to reduce the transmission of mechanical and road noise into the passenger compartment and, at the same time, provide controlled deformation zones to minimise the passenger cell intrusion suffered during a crash. Progressive and controlled deformation in an accident has another often overlooked benefit - limiting the extension of damage reduces repair costs.
One of the remarkable aspects of Micra is its real interior space. While some rivals use smoke and mirrors to claim interior space, Nissan UK merely used a tape measure to claim class-leading head and leg room, both front and rear.
Micra also has good luggage space (206 litres) and a light, airy feel on the inside while still bringing that welcoming and cosy feel to occupants. This is assisted by the continuation of the soft, rounded exterior contours onto the inside facia, mouldings and switchgear.
As well, the combination of low-set seating, low facia panel height and plenty of glass gives Micra a comfortable driving position and good visibility for ease of operation in parking and city driving.
Front seats offer a contoured back and side bolsters which, while offering excellent lateral support, do not overly complicate entry and exit. Super-S seats use dual hardness foams in this area.
Unlike many other compact cars, Micra also offers extraordinary amounts of 'odds and ends' storage inside, including an inclined tray under the glovebox, side door pockets and cassette storage in the centre console.
Australian Micras feature the biggest of the new CG engine series - the 1.3 litre version which delivers 55kW at 6000rpm and 103Nm at 4000rpm.
Designed specifically for the Micra, the CG (Clean and Green) series engines feature the latest 16-valve technology to provide a responsive, high efficiency unit running at low stress levels, while multi-point fuel injection and sophisticated electronic engine management ensure low emission levels, excellent economyand high reliability.
The application of the twin-cam 16-valve arrangement is often associated with high performance engines. However Nissan has applied the advantages of the system to offer excellent driveability - this means a better response from low engine speeds, reducing engine stress and noise output.
In keeping with the 'Clean and Green' prefix, the engine employs the latest high efficiency combustion techniques and twin exhaust catalysers. The first catalyser - located close to the engine at the exhaust manifold - is designed to reduce emissions during the warm-up period while the underfloor catalyser builds up to optimum operating temperature.
As well as tuning to run at low stress levels, NVH has been tackled in the basic engine design which has a stiff alloy cylinder clock and a solid bearing beam for a rigid bottom end.
Like the VQ engine fitted to the all-new Maxima, weight is saved by the adoption of hollowed crankshafts - a semi-eight counterweight shaft. A crank pulley damper and flexible flywheel further help to reduce NVH as does the tuned intake duct length with minimal boom but no adverse effect on performance.
The cam drive is chain driven and in two stages. Instead of taking the drive direct from the crankshaft, there is an idler sprocket which allows the two cam sprockets to be set more closely together, thus giving optimum valve angle and reducing the overall width and height of the engine. Camshaft profiles are biased towards providing the best torque response in the low and middle engine speed ranges.
The oil pump drives directly from the crankshaft.
The combustion chamber is a pentroof design with a central spark plug to ensure even combustion, improve anti-knock performance, cleanliness and economy. The piston has no valve recess, to promote intake-exhaust efficiency, improve combustion and reduce cooling loss - the twin-spray fuel injection system is compatible with the four-valve layout.
Further compactness and lightness is obtained by integrating the coil with the distributor and, on the Electronic Gasoline Injection (EGI) system, by combining the air flow meter with its hot wire sensor, together with the auxiliary air control valve in the throttle body. The new EGI arrangement provides improved response between part and full throttle as well as lower fuel consumption and higher levels of reliability.
Sophisticated electronic control for the ignition and injection is the key to the impressive on-road performance of Micra. This is also a vital factor in the successful matching of the Nissan Continuously Variable Transmission (N-CVT) to the powerplant.
The engine control unit uses a 16-bit, 1-chip microcomputer for fast processing of the constantly changing engine management factors. Control is finely tuned to cater for the slightest variation. Engine idling speed revolutions can be held constant even with changes in load - for example, switching-in power draining components such as headlights and the heater.
Special low electrostatic ignition cables are used to reduce primary voltage loss and metal coil cable reduces possible loss of efficiency due to overheating.
Another factor leading to better medium-speed torque response and reduced noise levels is the fitment of a large air cleaner, encased in a lightweight plastic cover.
Further contributions to low maintenance and good reliability can be seen with the valve clearances set for life and extensive use of the Formed-In-Place Gasket (FIPG) system. This uses liquid gasket to ensure leak-free joints on the oil pan, rear oil seal retainer, front engine cover, water pump, water outlet and thermostat housing.
Micra is the first Nissan model to feature the new generation Nissan Continuously Variable Automatic Transmission (N-CVT) designed to offer smooth, shiftless ratio changes using computer control to match driver demand with optimum engine performance.
It is exceptionally easy to operate with the computer doing all of the work of optimising engine revolutions, road speed, transmission selector position and throttle opening to achieve the best performance and fuel economy results.
At the heart of N-CVT is a steel belt and a set of pulleys with variable groove width - an arrangement used on other CVT systems. Instead of a conventional multi-plate hydraulic clutch, N-CVT features an electromagnetic powder clutch which takes up the drive more efficiently and smoothly.
The system automatically goes into neutral when the engine is idling and the car is at rest (in dense city traffic, for example) thereby producing further fuel savings. D (drive mode) is automatically reactivated when the accelerator pedal is depressed.
By continuously changing the speed ratio, the N-CVT allows the engine to operate at low levels of fuel consumption, irrespective of vehicle speed, and produces levels of economy far superior to those of a conventional automatic.
The clutch operates on the established principle under which metal powder, when brought near a magnet, forms into a chain. The powder provides the link between the drive and the driven member of the clutch when magnetic force is applied through a coil. The engine power is transmitted by controlling the current to this coil.
Clutch current variations are triggered by a number of input signals including engine revolutions, accelerator operation, braking, selector position and road speed. Clutch current is also corrected when the computer senses that the engine is cold, avoiding the problem of 'first start creep'. Equally important, when the anti-lock brake system is activated, the clutch current is turned off. The N-CVT is the first production application to successfully combine a continuously variable transmission with ABS.
Forward and reverse selection is also simpler and safer, using a dog clutch provided with. a synchromesh mechanism and linked to the selector level. via a push/pull cable.
Nissan applied the same rigorous and searching standards to suspension tests for the Micra compact cars as it did for the high performance 300ZX and GT-R sports coupes. In fact, the final configuration owes a lot to the chassis design and suspension of the Z-car and also the highly-praised front-wheel-drive Primera model which is raced in Europe and Japan.
Like Primera, the Micra was engineered for European conditions and drivers' tastes in handling and ride performance. Objectives included handling and stability, ride comfort, steering feel and effort, braking stability and minimal NVH.
Clearly, most compact cars are used primarily in the urban environment but, like Australians, European drivers also frequent secondary roads and freeways so the design brief called for a controlled and supportive freeway ride with good steering feel and stability.
There is also the matter of packaging, and suspension components eating valuable passenger and luggage space have always been an issue in compact cars.
Full advantage was also taken of advances in tyre technology and Australian Micras come standard with 155/65 13 Dunlop tyres.
Tuning of spring/wheel rates and the use of a rubber/urethane mix for the bump rubbers in the struts have delivered an improved front suspension performance. Both front and rear anti-roll bars are standard.
Excellent levels of stability have been achieved by optimising the suspension toe characteristics, utilising a short transverse link and reducing toe variation by locating the steering rack lower.
Micra already has one of the best turning circles in its class (9.4 metres) but Nissan has made parking even easier by increasing the steering ratio and revising the Ackermann geometry for reduced effort in low speed manoeuvring.
At the rear, the addition of a transverse link to the beam rear axle (creating a five-link system) has a number of benefits. Ride comfort is improved by allowing softer bushes in the rear trailing links (which are freed of their responsibility for providing lateral control).
Lateral stiffness is also much better, improving high speed stability and helping the overall handling characteristics. Tuned damper rates make a further contribution towards providing Micra's class-leading handling manners with a ride quality normally associated with larger cars.
Extra luggage space has been obtained by separating the coil spring and damper units, reducing suspension intrusion into the luggage area. The springs go underfloor where they are mounted with thick, soft rubber, under a side member, thereby further isolating the intrusion of road noise into the cabin.
The new Micra scores strongly in the areas of both active and passive safety with many features to support this.
Passive safety elements include a high-rigidity body structure with reinforced windscreen pillar and roof, designed with crash energy absorbing zones front and rear, and door guard bars to protect from side impacts. Door locks and surrounding panels are reinforced.
The multi-layer plastic fuel tank fitted to the Micra satisfies the strictest fire resistance standards; the tank and filler retain their integrity and contents in a crash, and the fuel system incorporates a cut-off valve to the vapour tank. Fuel is cut off by isolating the fuel one second after the engine has stopped. There is also a shutter to prevent blow-back when the tank is being filled.
Fabrics and fittings in the passenger compartment are all flame-retardant.
The steering system has a collapsible column with an impact and energy absorbing steering wheel. The instrument panel and facia moulding are shaped without sharp edges and the material used is soft and energy absorbing.
Front seat belts have sliding height adjusters on the B-pillar, and the buckle/tongue socket is fixed to the seat rail so that the belt can be properly adjusted, whatever the seat position.
Front seats have recline mechanism locks on both sides.
The smooth and rounded shape of the exterior of the new Micra is another important passive safety plus should, for example, pedestrians or cyclists come into contact with the car in an accident. As with the interior, there are no sharp edges.
The list of active safety points is just as comprehensive, beginning with the superb all-round visibility and excellent driving position which provide Micra owners with a valuable advantage in today's tough urban traffic situation.
A good in-car environment is another positive contribution towards safety on the road. A driver who is sitting comfortably in a car that requires little effort to drive well, allowing him or her to apply maximum concentration to what is happening on the road, must be a safer driver.
In the Micra there are new soft but supportive seats, light and easy-to-operate controls and, in the case of N-CVT equipped cars, no worries about gear changing.
Low noise levels, both generated and received, also aid driver concentration and reduce stress, as does the specially developed 'tuned beam' pattern for the halogen headlamps on Micra. The objective was to increase evenness and overall brightness levels for both dipped and main beam. In particular, the engineers carried out extensive tests to optimise low beam performance in order to show up pedestrians and cyclists, improve visibility in right/left cornering and visibility against the kerb (especially important in wet weather).
The results showed significant improvements. Assessments taken in cars travelling at 60 km/h indicated that the new light pattern was providing drivers with an extra six metres' 'early warning' of an obstacle. Apart from the road safety improvement, there was a marked reduction in driver fatigue during night journeys and on murky, rainy days.
Dynamic safety features on Micra include:
Nissan European Technology Centre (NETC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nissan, was established to fulfil the company's goal of augmenting its manufacturing capabilities with design and development facilities for models produced in Europe. The creation of NETC is further testimony to Nissan's commitment to globalisation and serves to complement existing facilities in Europe and ensures Nissan's further progress as an autonomous European operation.
Nissan Sunderland started with a greenfield site, built a brand new plant, hired an employee team that had never worked together before and took components through a newly established supply network. In order to do that, Sunderland needed to start with a stable and fully developed design. Bluebird fitted the bill.
But the process of modification and adaptation to European tastes and styles began almost at once, with component suppliers working with engineers from Sunderland and from Japan towards the common objective of meeting the specific demands of the European customer. The nucleus of what was to become the Nissan European Technology Centre has been established, although initially it operated as a small development team working from a base at the Sunderland factory.
The new team had a first opportunity to show what it could do, with the launch of the facelifted Bluebird in 1988, when some new features were introduced based on fruitful discussions between Nissan's European companies and Nissan Technical Centre in Japan (NTC). These included supplier selection, styling, design details and development. But a bigger challenge had already arrived in the shape of Primera - the first Nissan vehicle to be specifically designed with the European market in mind.
Primera also provided Nissan's first experience of Simultaneous Engineering, in this case, one product, tailored for two markets, but with 8,000 miles between its main design centre, NTC in Japan, and the European home base. However, the expanding European development team had now been gathered beneath the umbrella of the Nissan European Technology Centre, established in May, 1988, with the task of forming the nucleus of Nissan's vehicle design and development activity in Europe.
On Primera, NETC worked together with those suppliers who were establishing a long-term relationship with Nissan, to offer a number of component systems that virtually guaranteed 80 per cent local content within one year of production start.
With the Micra, NETC was involved from the very beginning, undertaking the majority of design and development processes for the European and Australiail models.
There are three NETC operations: Cranfield in Bedfordshire, England; Sunderland, England; and Brussels NTEC (B). Total investment in the three centres so far is 64 million pounds, with 51 million pounds of that going to the two UK facilities.
The Brussels operation has been developed from Nissan's Brussels Liaison Office, set up in 1971, and has concentrated its activities on the complex and vital task of monitoring and responding to the growing volume of regulatory and environmental demands. Together with NETC Cranfield, it serves as the centre for Nissan's EEC vehicle homologation activities.
At Sunderland, the NETC facility works very closely with the factory and looks after testing and development work of both vehicles and engines. It is linked with the Cranfield centre, which is the hub of the whole European NETC set-up.
A global Computer Aided Design (CAD) system linked by Nissan's global digital communications network has been in operation since September 1988, enabling NETC to take advantage of the two mighty Cray supercomputers at NTC in Japan, as well as with Nissan Research and Development Inc (NRD) in the USA.
Using the CAD interface, UK engineers can also talk with their counterparts at Nissan Motor Iberica, SA in Spain, and benefit from two-way data transmission across the Atlantic to NRD, exchanging design drawings, performance analysis data and test results.
There will soon be no need to ship clay styling models between the studios. It will be possible for it all to be done by satellite, with the dimensions transmitted in digital form to the CAD measuring machine, which is then used to create an exact copy of the shape sitting 8,000 miles away. The Cranfield styling studio, which is included in the second phase of the expansion plan, will focus its work on model derivatives designed for the European market.
Also included in the phase two package is the vehicle and engine assembly facility that allows assembly of prototype vehicles and motors to be carried out in Cranfield.
A road simulator and environmental chamber is another vital tool for Cranfield in the phase two package. It combines the features of a climatic test chamber with vehicle endurance testing. Conditions can be varied between the Arctic and Arizona, with temperatures ranging from -40'C to +80'C.
Computer-controlled rams, programmed to reproduce any actual road conditions, act on the wheels to simulate Nissan's test track surfaces. By testing in the laboratory we can further shorten the vehicle durability test schedule and, with the aid of the environmental chamber, can evaluate rattle and squeak performance in all temperature ranges. A separate chassis testing unit will be used to study suspension characteristics and investigate new concepts. Another rig tests components by imposing loads on three axes, allowing engineers to monitor reactions under different driving conditions.
Development and performance testing of engines carried out at Sunderland, but that facility will be supplemented by a pair of engine dynamometers at Cranfield, plus a chassis dynamometer to help expand the emissions testing program. The new facilities will allow several aspects of testing, presently done in Japan, to be transferred to the UK.
The existing, sound-proofed, semi-anechoic chamber at Cranfield has been used for static noise tests. The phase two development adds a rolling road dynamometer to a new chamber that will be able to assess vehicles running at speeds of up to 155mph (250 k/ph).
The rolling road and cooling air volumes are under computer control, so that repeat tests under exactly the same conditions will be possible. Engineers will also be able to make more detailed analysis of high speed vibration and the quality of the various sounds generated.
Safety is a key area, and testing at Cranfield will concentrate on occupant protection. Special rigs will be set up to simulate body and head contact with the interior, steering wheel and facia, next to existing facilities such as the EMC and shower test. On top of that the new door operation testing facility enables engineers to measure the quality level of door shut throughout the vehicle's simulated life. The safety test program will also include checks on fuel tank and systems integrity in a roll-over situation.
Investigating new methods to improve recyclability is one of the key tasks to be performed by the materials laboratory, which is also to be expanded and provided with a scanning electron microscope for materials micro-structure analysis.