When the holiday season rolls around, we’re inundated with holiday promotions such as Lexus’ December to Remember and Honda’s Happy Honda Days. Last year, Nissan decided to do something different. It decided to partner with the largest science fiction franchise on the planet.
Nissan debuted a Rogue One: A Star Wars Story special edition vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show that would be sold in limited numbers in the United States and Canada. It sold out. It was the first time an automaker worked hand-in-hand with LucasFilm on a vehicle.
Because of the success last year, Nissan and LucasFilm wanted to do something around the launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But it’s more than just a gratuitous marketing stunt to sell cars. It’s a behind-the-scenes labor of love by true fans living out childhood dreams as part of their career.
See Also: Nissan Scores Big with Millennials — Thanks, Star Wars
We sat down with Jeremy Tucker, vice president of marketing communications at Nissan, to talk about the relationship with Disney and LucasFilm, why Star Wars makes sense for Nissan, and the success of the partnership.
The 2017 L.A. Auto Show is the big launch of their new initiative, but it’s been in the works for awhile. “February we started work,” Tucker says. “Once the Detroit auto show was over, it was full-speed ahead.”
Setting Hyperdrive From Disney to Nissan
Tucker is a former employee of Disney, the parent company of LucasFilm and Industrial Light and Magic, so he understands the inner workings of both Disney and Nissan, but he’s been a lifelong Star Wars fan.
“Our relationship is built on trust,” he says. As you’d expect, LucasFilm and Disney are extremely protective of their property. The fact that the two teams work so well is a testament to the mutual respect each company has for each other.
The original partnership came about when it was revealed that the name of the Star Wars movie would be called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It made sense for Nissan, which has a model called the Rogue, to want to reach out to Disney and LucasFilm to see if they could work together.
Tucker tells us there are 131 million Star Wars fans domestically, but how do they come up with that number? “A fan is someone who has seen the movie within 30 days and purchased three pieces of merchandise,” he says, “It’s a huge opportunity.”
He also knows how passionate fans are. “We don’t want to anger those 131 million people, either.”
He and Jeremy Meadows, senior manager of Marketing Strategy and Integration, are big fans. It’s a bit of a dream for both of them to be working closely with LucasFilm on Star Wars projects. They also both know how passionate fans are and feel the weight of making sure they do it right.
“We can’t just stick a logo on a car,” Tucker proclaims, “people would notice and call us out on it.”
How do They Make the Star Wars Cars?
For this year’s L.A. Auto Show, Nissan and LucasFilm wanted to do something bigger. Instead of one custom-built car, Nissan wanted to do five. They sent over engineering files so that Industrial Light and Magic, the graphics gurus at LucasFilm, could design the custom cars.
Tucker says this shows how strong the trust is between Nissan and LucasFilm. A manufacturer just handing over detailed design details of a vehicle is virtually unheard of in the industry. “They know how our cars work,” Tucker admits, “but we also know how their movie works.”
The original plan was to do five vehicles, but like Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, the deal changed. After receiving the original files and working on the designs, LucasFilm wanted to add two more vehicles. Those ended up being the Captain Phasma and Kylo Ren First Order Maximas.
The final vehicles are meticulously detailed and engineered beyond mere showpieces. Jeremy Meadows even gave us a tour of the vehicles.
A Closer Look at the Stars
Nissan’s Rogue Sport was modified to look like the iconic A-Wing spacecraft. Even though the A-Wing didn’t see a lot of screen time in the previous movies, it’ll be seen in The Last Jedi.
“The Rogue Sport is the smaller, more agile vehicle in our lineup. It’s designed to get into tight spaces,” Meadows points out. “If you remember from the original trilogy, the A-Wing served the same purpose. It didn’t have a droid and was smaller.”
A highlight of all of the vehicles is there are little movie spoilers in all of them. Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer hasn’t appeared in a movie yet, but many of the design details are in the modified Maxima.
Even the red glow is significant. “We wanted to capture the glow from the instruments inside the craft that would shine on Kylo Ren’s face when he’s looking out into space,” Meadows points out.
If you’re curious what noises the TIE Silencer sounds like, there are speakers inside the car with authentic movies sounds that play as you walk by.
Perhaps the biggest spoiler of geeky stuff in the new movie is Poe Dameron’s X-Wing with a functional BB-8 droid. This is the only X-Wing to have five thrusters, with one directly behind the craft. Additionally, BB-8 raises and lowers inside the X-Wing, which is something we’ll see in the new movie but not something we’ve seen droids do in the past. These details are seen on the Nissan Rogue X-Wing that was revealed at this year’s L.A. Auto Show.
Even though the vehicles aren’t drivable on the street, they aren’t flimsy papier-mâché displays. The same technology that goes into building the cars goes into the Star Wars modifications. Some components are 3D printed and some have steel reinforcements, but a lot of the details took time.
Meadows tells us that Kylo Ren’s character car’s front end that looks like his helmet was milled out of a single block of aluminum “took over 80 hours to complete.”
These show vehicles were handcrafted with an attention to detail similar to the craftsmanship of a modern Rolls-Royce or Aston Martin. Unlike other concept vehicles, these vehicles pass muster under close inspection.
The show cars will make the auto show rounds, but the L.A. Auto Show is the only show that all the vehicles will be at the same place at the same time.
Leads Customer Experiences
Also at the auto show displays are both a virtual reality experience and an augmented reality experience. These technology buzzwords are technologies that Nissan hopes to exploit for people to better understand how its modern technology works.
While the virtual reality Droid Repair Bay experience is fun, the augmented reality experience is the more important piece. Customers can go into a dealership, or visit Nissan at an auto show, and use a specially designed tablet to virtually modify a Rogue to look like one of the Star Wars models. The experience also demonstrates the Intelligent Mobility features of the car.
Mixing the real world and the virtual world will help customers understand the safety technology in a safe environment. Tucker points out, “a customer can’t easily test autonomous emergency braking.” Customers crashing cars at dealerships wouldn’t be a good thing.
That’s the final reason why Nissan is pushing this relationship. When customers think about safety, “they think about seatbelts and airbags,” Tucker tells us. Despite all the advancements in active safety, the normal consumer doesn’t fully understand the tech.
By showing this technology within the context of the Star Wars universe, customers will be able to better understand how it works in a way they’re already familiar.
We asked Tucker what his measure of success is. “We want to focus on Nissan Intelligent Mobility Awareness and these features that are available across our models.”
Additionally, they’ll be getting feedback from dealerships and looking at the take rate of vehicles with Nissan Intelligent Mobility options. They’ll also monitor social media and website traffic. According to Tucker, website traffic spiked 300 percent last year with the Star Wars hype.
If you can’t make it to a show to see the Star Wars vehicles, the dealerships will have the augmented reality and virtual reality setups. “Ninety-five percent of our dealerships participated in last year’s Star Wars branding,” Tucker tells us. He usually gets high participation from his dealers but was impressed and pleased with the dealership participation. Expect your local dealership to have the displays when you stop by.
LucasFilm obviously gets extra amplification about their movie coming out, but the partnership is profitable for both sides. With the success of last year’s Star Wars partnership and projected success of this year’s, it’s likely that this arrangement will continue into the future.