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Q&A: why is the Nissan BladeGlider off to the Rio Olympics?

BladeGlider boss chats Olympics, production plans and the thorny DeltaWing issue with TG

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Seen the Nissan BladeGlider yet? The all-electric, arrow-shaped three-seater has re-emerged in drivable form, so TG.com caught up with Nissan’s global marketing boss Roel de Vries to find out why Nissan’s been beavering away behind the scenes…

TopGear.com: It’s been three years since we last saw or heard of the BladeGlider. Where’s it been, and why the long wait?

Roel de Vries: The car has been ready for a while. We were waiting for the right moment so we wanted to show the car to the public and let journalists see it at a great moment for Nissan, so we chose the Olympics. We started developing the real car from the concept a few months after the 2013 Tokyo show, and then we said that we wanted to make running models. We engineered prototypes, which we finished only a couple of months ago, and then we decided which place we wanted to show the car. That’s the reason you’ve only just seen the car now.

But why Rio? What’s the connection between Brazil and an electric three-seater sports car?

RdV: First of all, what’s important to say is that these BladeGliders are running cars. That’s why we didn’t want to wait for a motor show, because we already showed the concept in Tokyo on the stand. These cars are for people to experience, and eventually to drive, so we didn’t want to just put it on a stand. We wanted a spectacular location, and Rio is beautiful. The other thing is that we’re going to use this car for a long period. For the next two years we’re going to tour the car and have people all over the world experience it. So, we had to choose a venue where we could start this ‘BladeGlider roadshow’. 

From the other angle, I think that if as a brand you sponsor an event as big as the Olympics, you need to launch something that really shows what your brand is all about. Something of substance, that matches the scale of the event. So at the Olympics we’ll have three main messages: the local production and sale of our new Kicks model, our fuel cell commitment, and the BladeGlider.

TG: Nissan likes to put unlikely concepts into production if there’s demand – I’m thinking Juke-R here. Realistically, can you make the BladeGlider?

RdV: The desire to make it is really big, but I think what’s important to say is that we didn’t make it as a pre-production study. It’s more exploratory than that. We did it to explore packaging, to see if an EV powertrain and the narrowtrack bodystyle are compatible. The whole set-up of the central driver and passengers behind – it’s a study of a completely different driving experience. So, it’s definitely a study into what we think’s exciting for the future and what we think could be a new type of sports car, but if you ask me “will this be a production car in the next two to three years?’, my answer is a straight no, you won’t. 

TG: On the car’s rear there’s a subtle ‘Inspired by DeltaWing’ badge. That’s been a controversial issue for the BladeGlider. Have you resolved the legal disputes with the DeltaWing designers?

RdV: As you know, we raced together with the DeltaWing, and we did have a discussion about how this would relate to the car we then made. So we agreed on an ‘Inspired by…’ badge on the car which I think is fair on them and fair to us. Both parties are satisfied with the result, and I don’t think there’s much more to say than that. To have ‘Inspired by DeltaWing’ on the back of the car is a good reflection of what we did with this car, racing it at Le Mans for example.

TG: What are the main changes seen on the new BladeGlider versus what we saw in Tokyo three year ago?

RdV: When you make a concept car, the intention is to always make a car that could be real, but you don’t have the legislation and resurrection on certain things. What we’re most proud of is that if you put today’s car next to the 2013 concept, it confirms what we showed in Tokyo is possible to build and run. Most people said at the time that it was not realistic, just a design study that could never work. That motivated us to prove them wrong. 

Did things have to change to make this possible? Yes. The front track is a little wider, and the rear track is a little bit narrower. But those changes are all made to make sure the driving performance, road holding and agility were optimised. We’re very proud that we stayed so close to the concept car. 

TG: Does racing figure in your plans for the BladeGlider? You raced the Zeod RC and DeltaWing at Le Mans, and Formula E has taken off since…

RdV: We believe racing makes a statement that the brand is there to win, and it showcases future technology. Formula E is an interesting one – our alliance partner Renault has won the championship, so we’re close to it, and it’s something we’ll look at. Electric racing is something that we’re playing with – we made the Leaf Nismo and now we have the BladeGlider and are experimenting with racing EVs. 

When it comes to a specific formula to go racing, it’s not simple to make a one make race series with an EV. Personally I would love to do that but it’s not something that you can do easily. Most privateers race a Ferrari, a Porsche, a Nissan GT-R – something a little more traditional. But we’re looking at what racing formulas we want to enter next and you’ll be hearing about that in the coming few months.

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