Nissan Forum: When is a Minivan Not a Minivan?

When It’s a FORUM.
Nissan created the Quest for buyers who needed a minivan but didn’t really want to drive one. It was given an aggressive exterior supported by an odd and innovative interior, which took a major update that made it more conventional with the 2007 model year. But the Quest is too much for most minivan buyers, and sales have disappointed Nissan. Nissan must have done some things right, though; Quest owners gave it AutoPacific’s 2007 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Minivans.

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Despite lukewarm response to Quest, Nissan has not given up on the cool minivan concept, proven by this year’s FORUM concept. Jury’s out on whether FORUM succeeds with showgoers, but much thought and detail went into development and it sports features that would be appreciated in any minivan. The not-minivan FORUM’s angry-appliance looks would stand out in a sea of sameness.
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FORUM’s dramatic exterior is wrapped around clever features to keep all rows happy. There’s no doubt that FORUM explores features and style for a new Quest, but Nissan executives indicated that if they don’t think a new generation will be profitable, it won’t be built.


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Dramatic Style, Inside and Out
The one-box FORUM looks lower and sleeker than traditional minivans, with a dachshund profile. The SkyRoof panels have hidden sunshades, allowing lots of light and visibility from any seating position or relief from the sun. Front doors open 90 degrees and there is no B-pillar, thanks to extra-thick reinforced room and doors frames. Instead of the usual track lines below the rear windows of most minivans, the FORUM has a trackless system. Along with easier ingress/egress, the swiveling second row can be used like a bleacher. Think side-gating instead of tailgating.
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The eye-catching, dramatic concept sheetmetal is wrapped around a seven-passenger setup. The floating instrument panel is sharp, with the IP upper and steering wheel wrapped in supple leather. Though keeping some Nissan key interior elements, with the infotainment controls at a nearly flat angle high in the dashboard, but the buttons have pictograms instead of words. The HVAC controls are a lower, closer to hand, and straightforward. The driver and front passenger sit in deep pedestal-style seats, the second row gets bucket-formed seats, and the third row a lounge setup that looks more couch than car.
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Space for Parents to be Parents and Kids to be Kids and All to Be Together
Noting that families spend more time in cars, whether to and from dance class or to Grandma’s for the holidays, the interior offers two zones designed to be as convivial or isolated as they’d like to be. The front-seat parents’ zone gets all the controls and seats designed to “enhance driving pleasure.” The rear zone has the job of keeping kids comfortable and entertained. New in-car vehicle technology bridges these zones when the family is looking for togetherness. Or for a quick popcorn snack, thanks to the small microwave installed in the center console between driver and front passenger.
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The motorized second-row captain’s chairs turn and swivel 90 degrees for sidegating or 180 to face the third row, and each gets a wireless monitor in the console. The third row, not the cramped and uncomfortable environment of today’s minivans, is sculpted and offers cupholders in the armrests.
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Nissan’s Rachel Nguyen, director, Advanced Planning and Strategy, says that families today have redefined quality time, and can use family transportation to increase those experiences. “Quality time used to be more about the quantity of time spent together with the kids. Today, it’s more about dedicated moments for family fun, entertainment, and communication. FORUM is a great place to gather together and rediscover each other once in a while.” Family road trips have long been a part of the American psyche, but Nissan’s FORUM brings technology more completely into the fold.
FORUM, Nissan says, was designed to meet the needs of soccer moms using the vehicle as a kid-taxi are met with the rear-seat cameras and communications technology, while allowing them front-seat space of their own. For Dad, the FORUM is said to get responsive power and handling to go with its more aggressive styling. This responsive power would theoretically come from the Maxima’s upcoming diesel 3.0L V6, though in fact there is no engine in the concept on the show floor. Despite the comfortable-looking seats, the minivan is still flexible enough to swallow large cargo.
Entertainment and Parental Control
Nissan worked with Bose in developing infotainment solutions for the FORUM, from speakers to audio controls. Each row gets its own video screens, and thanks to working with Bose on audio, there are speakers for everyone. The Bose SeatCentric system puts speakers in the headrests and seatbacks of all seats, allowing both independent audio programming for all three rows and “consistent stereo image event” as the second row swivels. The Bose FreeSpace outdoor audio system puts speakers in the trailing edges of the sliding doors.
Parent-friendly touches include a Time Out button in the steering wheel, which mutes all audio and broadcasts the driver’s voice to all three rows. The Kid Cam puts images of the second and third rows to the main LCD panel. Drivers choose the cameras with control switches above the rearview mirror. Control of the infotainment system uses a proximity sensor in the single-knob controller; waving a hand over it brings up the main menu. FORUM isn’t the first to use a proximity sensor for controls; that goes to the Jaguar XF on sale this spring. Look for that feature to find its way into the automotive landscape over the coming years.
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Remember the Toyota F3R?
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While Nissan is struggling with the Quest concept and is trotting out the Forum to test new ideas, Toyota had a similar concept at the 2007 North American International Auto Show. The F3R Concept was an aggressively styled minivan with hybrid power and lounge seating. Not practical, but still a breath of fresh air in the numbingly conservative minivan market. F3R looks pretty durn similar to the Forum, doesn’t it?

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