Advertisement

How Nissan R&D guru David Moss became the Qashqai king

mundyaward2024
mundyaward2024

There’s a wide, picture-lined corridor inside Nissan’s European technical HQ at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, that connects the front offices with a much larger complex of technical installations to the rear.

This is where all of the serious car creation takes place: engine cells, laboratories, sound chambers and rigs for many different forms of durability testing can be found there.

One of the pictures, faded with the years, shows six or seven fresh-faced young men, Nissan’s intake of graduate engineers for 1990 in their second week of employment.

Today, amazingly, four of them are still on Nissan’s payroll and all are now highly placed in an organisation that has always put company loyalty on the same high plane as ability.

ADVERTISEMENT

The most accomplished of them has the widest smile: he is David Moss, for the past five years Nissan’s senior vice-president in charge of R&D for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Oceania.

As Nissan’s chief engineer for most of the important regions this side of Japan, Moss’s accomplishments are many across a stellar 34-year career.

But the one achievement Autocar especially seeks to honour with this year’s Mundy Award for Engineering is Moss’s invaluable work in creating and nurturing the British-built Nissan Qashqai.

The pioneering SUV whose production has recently passed four million units in the three generations that have been launched since 2007, and whose fourth generation, likely to be launched in 2027, will be a pure EV.

Moss’s training was in aerodynamics, but he chose cars, and particularly Nissan, for his career, because he reckoned the opening of the Cranfield Technical Centre Europe – which had happened while he was still at university – was a powerful declaration of the company’s intent to produce ground-up cars on this side of the world.

He felt he could grow with the company – and that is more or less what has happened.

Starting in body engineering when Nissan’s Sunderland plant was producing the Micra and Primera, Moss well remembers how the company came to recognise that building me-too hatchbacks against Ford, Volkswagen and Vauxhall was no longer its route to success.

“We were developing an Almera,” he recalls, “but we couldn’t see a viable volume and profit in it, so what were we to do?

"We were well aware that consumers liked the high driving positions of our off-roaders, but how could we combine that driving position with the efficiency of a C-segment hatchback? We reckoned it could be done, but that was our challenge.”

A decade into the job and by then a creative young engineer and leader, Moss was given charge of an intricate and all-important part of the first Qashqai: the cockpit module, including the instrument panel, which needed to be moulded using an exacting new process.

Always creative, and using his body-building knowledge, he also helped create the seven-seat Qashqai+2, with a lengthened body and a slightly higher roof, in the days when seven-seat SUVs were practically unknown.

Production reached 40,000 units before it ended with the second-generation Qashqai in 2014, when the X-Trail came along to collar the seven-seat market.

By the time the second-generation Qashqai had hit the market in 2014 (Nissan delayed replacement because the original was still selling out of its skin), Moss had taken charge of the body, interior and exterior engineering for all UK-made Nissans, as vice-president of vehicle engineering.

The new model was modernised and enhanced with even more of the convenience features Nissan’s research was telling them Qashqai buyers loved, but the company resisted increasing its size (“parking spaces weren’t getting bigger”, notes Moss), even though some of the opposition, notably Korean, kept on growing.

Second-generation sales accelerated again, but inside Nissan’s thoughts were already turning to the third-generation model.

In 2017, Moss was packed off to Japan with yet another promotion – chief vehicle engineer for Europe – and tasked with adapting an all-new platform, to be used throughout the Nissan-Renault Alliance, to the new Qashqai designs already forming in both Cranfield and Paddington, Nissan’s European design centre close to central London.

The third-generation Qashqai was due for launch by 2021. That model was first to feature Nissan’s novel e-Power hybrid system, which uses an ultra-efficient petrol engine to propel a generator that charges a battery, from which electric power alone is used to drive the wheels.

In 2022, the Qashqai became the UK’s best-selling car, which was a noteworthy achievement, but even then only a little over 20% of Sunderland’s production output was staying in this country; nearly two-thirds of Qashqais were finding owners on the European continent.

That model has just been refreshed, on schedule, with the big change to all-electric power due by 2028.

Today, at the age of 58, Moss is already the longest-serving Nissan employee to have held his senior engineering VP’s position.

His predecessors have always been Japanese, and they have always returned home after around three years in the role.

But Moss has no sense that he is in danger of repeating himself. “What I love about Nissan,” he says, “is that no days are ever the same; there’s never a sense that what we did with our last car will be what we do with the next. The technology and the customer demands move too fast for that.

“The only downside – if you want to call it that – is that by the time you launch a car, you know there’s something quite a bit more advanced already in the planning. But that’s how we like it.”

]]>