Cube design journey…. Part 1!

So, we drive them, we love them but did you know the Nissan cube turns 20 in 2018? We’ve got a few events line up where we’ll be having Birthday celebrations but we thought a little look back at how it all came about would be nice. A bit of a dig around the net and having been sent some Goodies by a club friend at Nissan has given us some gems of things to work with. Now lets take a look at how our quirky little boxes came about from these odd inspirational items and the odd number of people who have threatened to quit over not being taken seriously!


In the beginning there was a word…

The life of the cube started with a what to all intents and purposes looks like…. well to be fair a big Micra! Most folks seeing this probably wouldn’t recognise it as a cube or even as the first iteration of the odd asymmetrical box we love. As such there isn’t a lot to say about it unfortunately, no controversy in the design department or struggle to get the unique design accepted as a good idea by the accountants (you can tell whats coming later can’t you!). If you look closely though there are a few little features that have flowed through the life of the car, note that finisher panel back there behind the rear door, that still crops up today. The one nice thing about the original cube is it comes from an age where model badges were individually styled and those are always nice! It then as with the second gen shared the micra platform and came with a dinky 1.3 engine and CVT gearbox.

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The Formation of what we know and love…

The name cube suggests a car that always should have been boxy and like we know it to be today but it lasted 4 years in that original guise and only came to market as the asymmetrical odd ball in 2002. I guess people could be forgiven for even thinking that the Gen 2 was actually the first generation. It was a wandering mind on a coffee break that took the mundane little cube on a trip down the rabbit hole though.

“Taking  break from a hectic day, I was drinking a cup of coffee in the company canteen and thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I could create a basic car that has this same kind of relaxed atmosphere, with a design that wouldn’t fade, even over 20 years?’ It wouldn’t be just another classic European compact, but one born from distinctively Japanese ideas. I thought of the common Japanese situation of a car having to frequently back up on tight roads, and I got a flash, cut the rear window asymmetrically to expand the rear view and help drivers back out with confidence.”


The asymmetrical window thought to be an option rather than one side!

This was the moment that the idea for the asymmetrical styling came to Hirotada Kuwahara the Man we have to thank for that window everyone stops to stare at!

design sketches

Cube sketch book!

“ I made some rough sketches on a notepad and showed them to my boss. He didn’t take me seriously, and after a quick look said, ‘okay, back to work now.’!” The unconventional nature of the idea made it hard for him to get his sketches taken seriously, much less approved. At one point, Kawahara’s asymmetric drawing was taken as two separate options laid out side by side. He didn’t give up. “Though in my tenth year at Nissan, I was determined to leave the company unless my proposal was accepted. Fortunately , after the Alliance (with Renault), the company gave the design division a greater presence and had grown more open to novel concepts like mine.”


Original concept artwork from Nissan.

The unique, “off-centre” 2nd Generation cube design became a classic tale of risk being rewarded, a bit like the first iteration of the Ford KA which whilst a lot of people didn’t like it at first was a nice break from the norm at the same time. John Sahs is the man who held the reins for the design of the gen 3 and we’ll get to his part in the story a little later but interestingly he joined Nissan just as the design of the Gen 2 was being wrapped up for market “ When I joined Nissan Kuwa-Chan (Kuwahara) took me on my first tour around the company. Development of the Cube was in its final stages at the time and I really wanted to be part of the project,” the Initial encounter with Kuwahara sparked an interest in the cube that would see him buy a cube in order to get his own experience of Cube life first hand!



Original interior concept sketches

The Gen 2 lasted for 6 years until the release of the Gen 3 in 2009. It was a hugely successful car having various alternatives arise including the cubic 7 seater along with supercharged and 4 wheel driver versions being made.



Various auto design companies got involved with styling seeing Autech and impul produce versions as well as a collaboration with Sebatian Conran. “I used to have a Porsche 911, but it just became frustrating,” Conran said. “You’ve got this big engine, but there’s all this performance you can’t use.” He traded in the Porsche and, after a year of being car-less, the former car collector plumped for the Cube. Conran said: “I feel completely liberated. It’s wonderfully rational, not hung up like a lot of cars are on looking like they do because that’s how they’ve always been; it makes so much blistering common sense.” Conran designed the special edition for release at the Tokyo motor show in 2003 and the 5000 cars made sold out in a matter of weeks. Not all of the concepts design cues made it into production but it is still very recognisable to those that know the Conran Edition.



The red seats that would go on to be red leather.


Those wheel trims!


The huge glass roof that didn’t make it in until the Gen 3!

The almost drab exterior colour was meant to contrast and Harmonise with the drop dead red of the interior giving a contrast between an exterior anonymity and internal personality. Seems very much like how the outside world views the japanese and their suited business men and the crazy stuff that seems to go on along side but in complete contrast to that! As part of our 20th Birthday celebrations we may have the chance to meet the man himself so keep watching for details of that.

And this is where we’ll sign off on the life of the cube for this instalment. If you’ve read this far I thank you and hope you’ll enjoy part 2 where we look at the cubes bid to take over the world and just how a sunglasses wearing bulldog fits into this mad world of square.

reith sign off

Sources :

Nissan Design News Letter Vol. 4

Guy Bird –

Simon Fox


Images have been pulled from various web sources and no copyright is claimed. Images are used within these articles under a fair use for comment base.

3 thoughts on “Cube design journey…. Part 1!

  1. Brilliant article! Thanks! Would love to hear even more details about the various models, design idea’s and production. What do Autech models really mean (as well as the body kits and better suspension, is it an upgraded ECU as hinted on the Autech Rider site?). How many Impuls were made, and are they fast (with the supercharger)? Why did the 1.4 with CVT have a bad reputation and what was done to fix the CVT for the 1.5 Z11?


  2. Hi Gary,

    It is all something I can have a delve into and see what I can find! A few of those items I am not sure I’ll be able to find out as can’t imagine Nissan will ever fess up to what the flaws were with a gearbox that is still commonly in use but I can see where I get with the other items. If there is anything else you’d like to see thrown up on the site let me know!


  3. Pingback: Cube origins… Part 2 | nissan cube owners club

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