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How Nissan uses robots, Mariah Carey, and volcanic dust to sell more crossovers

Nissan sprays 4,000mm of water, per hour onto its vehicles in testing to ensure windows are watertight and seals are sleet-proof.Nissan sprays 4,000mm of water, per hour onto its vehicles in testing to ensure windows are watertight and seals are sleet-proof.
Nissan sprays 4,000mm of water, per hour onto its vehicles in testing to ensure windows are watertight and seals are sleet-proof.Courtesy of Nissan

Crossover vehicles—that mashup between an SUV and a passenger car—are designed to attract buyers looking for that city-meets-country sweet spot. Not too bulky or too small. Spacious enough for the family dog and camping, yet zippy and nimble enough to handle urban environments.

To prepare its crossovers for the harsh realities of the outside world, Nissan’s engineering team subjects them to some high- and low-tech stress tests that involve robots, volcanic dust, Mariah Carey, and German house music, among other things. Because what else screams durability than Carey hitting the high notes in the ’90s pop hit “Fantasy”?

Several of Nissan’s tests mirror the rest of the industry. The Japanese automaker says it has run its three crossover models—the X-Trail, Juke, and Qashqai—more than 1.49 million miles just to test the suspension, for example.

There are a few more unusual tests, though, that seem to be unique to Nissan. For example, Nissan says it plays the stereo on its crossover models at a high volume for a total of 1,200 days “using specifically selected music tracks to encompass the widest range of pitch and beat. These include Mariah Carey for the high notes and the thumping bass of German house music.”

Sure, the tests come across a tad gimmicky. But these stress tests, particularly the more unusual ones, illustrate the automotive industry’s challenge to win over a fickle and finicky consumer base. Why else would Nissan spend more than €50,000 ($56,000) to redesign the front door pocket of the Qashqai model to accommodate the new bottle of a popular brand of Japanese green tea?

Other tests include activating the windscreen wipers for 480 hours at different speeds and settings, as well as in varied simulated weather conditions, and using special robots to open and close the windows at least 30,000 times per model while specific volcanic dust imported from Japan is blasted on it. In another test, weights are dropped onto the glass roof to ensure it can withstand the weight of a brown bear climbing on the car.

Of course, meeting safety and environmental standards is more important to a company’s future than, say, having a front door pocket that fits a special kind of bottle. Just ask Volkswagen.

Still, automakers are in an increasingly competitive race to add special features to attract consumers, and sell more cars. Take Tesla Motors (TSLA). In a nod to “This is Spinal Tap,” the volume on the Tesla Model S goes up to 11, because it’s one louder than 10. That fun feature probably doesn’t lead directly to sales, but it does further bolster the brand of the electric vehicle.

Over at Nissan, drivers can be assured that a bear can’t crash through their sunroof and Mariah Carey won’t blow the vehicle’s speakers.

No word, though, on Celine Dion.