Monday, September 13, 2010

Innovation for Today, Innovation for Tomorrow

Nissan has recently come out with a series of TV commercials to promote their new line of automobiles. They are varied in their approach, but all of them rally around a common theme of innovation. Let's take this one for example:

Sure, it's chock full of technological improvements that really have no bearing on the environment (this is a car commercial after all), but there are a few nuggets of value to focus in on. The first is the seats being made from recycled water bottles. Though we don't know what percent of the material is post-consumer plastic, the idea of extending the life-cycle of the water bottles is certainly unusual for a car company. The second portion of interest is obviously the line, "[Wouldn't it be cool] if you never bought another gallon of gas?" coupled with the amazing time-lapse of the pump disappearing. This is the true innovation, a groundbreaking change to something we often take for granted (more so than the addition of a step on your Xterra that you can use to hoist your mountain bike on the roof). Can you imagine a world without gasoline?

On the topic of groundbreaking, let's move on to this next 30 second spot:

Narrated by Lance Armstrong, this commercial stresses the significance of a certain technological improvement in the Leaf - it has no tailpipe (and thus, no GHG emissions). Finally after it's 100+ year existence, the automobile (or at least this one) has given up a former staple of it's design, allowing not only Lance to breathe easier but the planet to as well. Again, this is innovation at its finest - Nissan has done away with this technological convention and improved the environmental health outcomes in the process.

Finally let's take a look at this commercial (I've saved what I think is the best one for last):

Simple. Moving. Poetic even. I'll be honest, though I'm not usually one to buy into the whole "environmentalism for polar bears' sake" argument, this clip was powerful in a way I don't know that I can adequately articulate. For me the embrace at the end of the long and laborious journey from arctic to suburbia signifies a solution to one of the most symbolic crises of a changing climate, and in doing so a solution to climate change itself. The embrace is also charged with a mixture of gratitude, relief, and forgiveness that I think most of us are searching for in our own personal pursuits for a cleaner, healthier, and happier planet.

One final point: Yes, Nissan still sells cars that consume gasoline and pollute the earth (and will likely do so for the foreseeable future), but progress is progress and any little step in the right direction counts for something.


  1. I actually applaud Nissan for their work towards an affordable electric vehicle. In a world of hybrid vehicles with mediocre benefits, Nissan has been the first big manufacturer to step up and put forth an all electric platform. Time will tell how it does, but if it's affordable I have a new daily commute vehicle.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Colin! One of the things I find so interesting about the electric car is the chicken-and-egg conundrum of charging infrastructure and the vehicles themselves. You can't necessarily market electric cars freely because of their limited range and battery life, but companies won't invest in charging stations if they can't be sure there will be a demand for them. I think it will come down to some creative solutions, joint incentives and the like. I'm excited to see where it all goes.