What exactly “self-driving” is continues to be the question surrounding new cars. Technologies that take over more and more for drivers — whether it’s for safety or convenience — are more available than ever, especially from automakers that sell the most cars.
Nissan is on its way to creating a fully autonomous vehicle, and it has taken its first significant steps this year. Most of its 2018 models will get standard automatic emergency braking, and two will get what it calls ProPilot Assist, which performs some steering and braking functions for the driver at highway speeds. But it also has to explain to customers what that means. Unexpectedly, perhaps, it’s turned to Star Wars: The Last Jedi to inspire show cars revealed last week at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show.
“People understand drones and force fields,” Jeremy Tucker, VP of marketing, communications, and media for Nissan USA, tells The Verge. “People talk about brakes and airbags, but cars offer so much more these days.”
That, Tucker says, gives Nissan a way to understand Safety Shield — what the automaker labels umbrella of its driver assistance technologies. That includes ProPilot Assist, which was launched on the 2018 Nissan Leaf and Nissan Rogue this fall. It’s the clearest path toward a fully autonomous driving system that will also spread to Nissan’s auto affiliates that include Infiniti, Renault, and Mitsubishi by 2022.
“How do we make people understand this technology?” Tucker asked. So Nissan teamed up with Lucasfilm for a second year to do special versions of its cars and promote some technologies at the same time.
Tucker said Lucasfilm “reimagined” seven vehicles, picking from the Altima and Maxima sedans, two Rogue SUVs, and the Titan pickup. Then they were matched with various characters. Lucasfilm worked in partnership with the Nissan Design Team in California and Industrial Light & Magic. Production Nissans were taken to Vehicle Designs near Los Angeles, where vehicles for the Justice League and the Fast and Furious franchise have also been made.
Tucker is particularly proud of the Maxima Kylo Ren and its red underside lighting that mimics the character’s pulsating lightsaber. Its “mask” is a single block of milled aluminum.
“Kylo Ren is such an iconic character and such a badass in the Star Wars universe,” Tucker says. “We told the stories of our models, and they told us the story they’re telling in the movie.”
While the show cars aren’t going to be seen at dealerships, they will be touring the country at events such as the Los Angeles Auto Show this month and the Detroit Auto Show in January. Some of The Last Jedi-themed parts for Nissans are available to buy through dealerships now.
But while these are concept cars intended to garner attention rather than sales, they do give Nissan the floor to talk about the future of cars and what “self-driving” means for today and tomorrow.