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April 1, 2020

Meet the Guy Who's Responsible for the Next Nissan Navara, Terra's Design

Ken Lee took the helm of Nissan’s LCV (Light Commercial Vehicle) design team six months ago, and now he shares his vision of where he’ll be taking the brand moving forward.

A Nissan veteran of nearly 17 years, Ken was born in the U.S., but spent time living in Singapore and Hong Kong. Working for Ford for three years, he saw how innovative Nissan design was when the American carmaker got their hands on the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX. A month later, he joined Nissan.

Now that Ken’s in charge of LCV design—focusing on body-on-frame SUVs and pickup trucks, he feels that at the core, the “Nissan DNA” plays a very central role. He equates this to being technologically advanced, with careful attention to detail. However, when talking about Nissan’s LCV DNA—it’s all about “go anywhere,” and being “unbreakable.” His challenge therefore is to mix them in a recipe that honors the brand’s heritage while making it still segment-appropriate.

One perfect example is how Ken’s eyes were changed when designing the 2020 Patrol. He says, “I’ve discovered how strong the following is, how loyal and passionate our customers are. If we take the Patrol, our research trips to the Middle East show us how high the customer’s perception is—it may even be higher than how we at Nissan perceive it internally. That is very encouraging and motivating.”

“It’s very important to be in touch with our regions, and LCVs touch on very interesting markets. Coming from the passenger car world to LCVs, there are markets I’m familiar with and also new ones. Our design team is already quite in tune with the markets, because we visit and have satellite studios. We’re in deep communication with the product planning community, which also has satellites in all key markets. That’s the fun, when we get to take inspirational trips that touch the market and customers.”

Nissan’s global design team isn’t so big, but they’re highly efficient, working with a strong global collaboration between the carmaker’s other design studios in the U.S., Europe, China, Latin America, Thailand, and Japan. Whichever design is chosen though, the regional studios still talk to each other, and exchange information, ultimately resulting in a vehicle that the customer is expecting.

“As senior design director, my role is to inspire the design team—and, as the title says, to set direction. The most important part is finding the right direction for design, especially in the very beginning, and that the product finishes well. I would compare the process to an airliner taking off and landing. Takeoff and landing are extremely important, but the middle part is when the team is expected to work quite autonomously to find the design. For my own job, it’s a matter of understanding global markets, design trends, customer expectations, and just simply the sense of aesthetics, and bring everything together to guide the project in the right direction,” concludes Ken.

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