The world today has become fast-paced, technologically-advanced, and connected. Be it at home, at work, or on the go, we're somehow tethered to the information (and communication) superhighway. It's not just with mobile devices either as cars will soon be part of that web. Just ask Nissan.

Nissan has embarked on a more creative approach to evolve itself into a company that goes beyond mobility. Through its new “Nissan Futures” thought leadership program, it aims to put together bright minds, industry leaders, government officials, authentic influencers, and media to help find solutions to problems of climate change, traffic congestion, road fatalities, and increasing air pollution.

At the center of it all is the central goal of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which is founded on three pillars: Intelligent Driving, Intelligent Power, and Intelligent Integration.

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For its second event in Asia, Nissan decided to hold their event in Hong Kong. Quite a unique place to hold a motoring event as it is a small and busy Asian city more known for its rather efficient public transport moving its people around than its overall private car sales.

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Getting reacquainted

But before Nissan talked about their plans for the future, we went out for a quick drive first. The Philippine delegation’s Nissan Futures program started with a purely electrifying experience as we drove the Nissan Leaf around Hong Kong.

Now, this is not the first time has driven the Leaf EV, as our Features and Test Drives Editor was able to experience the car in Yokohama back in 2017.

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However, driving in Hong Kong is a different experience on its own. Unlike Japan, we were in a relatively small territory that is divided into two major islands – Kowloon and Hong Kong, and the roads are relatively tight where cars go at a busy but (quite) fast pace. While it doesn't entirely simulate conditions in Manila, we at least got to try out the Leaf in a more real-world setting.

Our steed was great given that it came packed with Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility features such as lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring. Those features helped us greatly as we come from a left-hand-drive market. Plus, the innovative e-pedal was a big help throughout our one-hour or so drive. By the end of the trip, we consumed about 21% of the battery's charge through a mix of light to moderate traffic with the A/C on the whole time.

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A major announcement

Nissan's Regional Senior Vice President for Asia & Oceania, Yutaka Sanada, made a major announcement. He officially declared that they will be offering the Leaf EV in the Philippine and Indonesian markets by 2020, a big step in expanding EV's reach around the world. Of course, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out though. He has been hinting at this possibility for the past two years. After all, we wouldn't have driven the second-gen Leaf again if they were not intent on bringing it into our markets.

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Getting down to business

On to the thought leadership program which was divided into two parts: the Future of Cities and the Future of Mobility.

Starting off the Future of Cities discussion was a very inspiring talk by Dr. Maarten Sierhuis, chief technology director of Nissan Research Center in Silicon Valley. His interpretation of autonomous technologies still involves humans, a very stark contrast to the current discussions largely centered on technology.

"We can think, we can sense, we can act," said Dr. Sierhuis. "This is what cars need to do as well. Autonomous driving is about how human systems and cars interact. Show me a system without humans, and I show you a useless system".

The co-panelists on the future of cities shared their experiences from the academe, government, institution and technology fields which brought a good mix of best practices to solve similar problems encountered in the region. The Philippines was represented by Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Leonido Pulido, III.

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To further put things into the "local" perspective, a comparison was made on different Asian cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Manila. There, Vivek Vaidya, Associate Partner and Senior Vice President for Intelligent Mobility of Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific, spoke about how they are prepared to take on the future. That's where the mobility part comes in.

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The future of mobility according to Nissan

On the discussion of the future of mobility, the panel was composed of Iain MacBeth, Head of Foresight, Transport Innovation Directorate, Transport of London; Iim Fahima Jachja, Founder, Queenrides, Indonesia; Vivek Vaidya, Associate Partner, Senior Vice President - Intelligent Mobility, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific; Vincent Wijnen, Senior Vice President, Nissan Asia & Oceania; Yossapong Laoonual, president, Electric Vehicle Association of Thailand (EVAT), Thailand; Daesung Yoon, Vice Chairman, Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA).

The discussions revolved around the improvement of mobility in the region towards safe and efficient transport systems for all. With an alarming data of one road accident-related death every 25 seconds, an integrated solution is needed to reduce this statistic to virtually zero.

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Nissan's Global EV business head Nick Thomas was the last presenter. He proposed that electrification of mobility could be a solution to energy market disruption. He also showcased how EV batteries can eventually be used on a larger scale to power homes, offices, and even grids themselves. With his proposal, it effectively makes the car not just a mode of transport, but also an effective and contributing part of and for communities.

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Formula E - the future of motorsport?

But the future isn't all about cars powering homes and autonomous driving. Nissan believes that you can still have fun and entertainment with cars in an even more automated world. Case in point: on the last day, we were taken to Central to witness a Formula E race: the Hong Kong e-Prix.

The FIA Formula E championship holds their events in city centers instead of the usual racing circuits that Formula One competes in. The events are usually one-day events and with zero-emission race cars being used and with their relatively minimal noise, it is a rather nice integration to urbanized neighborhoods causing minimal disturbance.

Perhaps the most important message Formula E wants to share is that electric cars are not just for nerds or tree huggers. These plug-in cars can be cool, and they can go fast, as demonstrated by Nissan e.Dams drivers Oliver Rowland and Sebastien Buemi.

The duo were relatively in good spirits after qualifying 2nd and 8th, respectively in the grid of 22. Unfortunately, both drivers failed to finish the race with Buemi picking up front suspension damage and Rowland snapping his rear axle following contact with the wall. Also, the British weather visited its former colony with rain showers during our stay in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, the two showed the pace of their Nissan-powered electric race cars.

The race experience itself was quite unique, hearing cars whirring through rather than roaring was a bit different. But while the volume is dialed down, the race itself was still exciting and action-packed.

The take-away

Innovations, disruptions, fresh ideas, an electrified racing series, and the idea of a bright future ahead point towards three trends: vehicles as mobile energy units, humans still need to form the center of car and future technology interactions and zero fatalities as the next frontier of smart mobility.

With all that going on, to say that the industry is at a crossroads is an understatement. The next few years, even decades, will be crucial for the automotive sector. Keep things the way they are now and an automaker will be left behind. On the flipside, gamble on the future and the brand will either be rewarded, or lose out big time. Nissan is determined to stay ahead of the curve by paving the way and shaping the future.