Learning from the best
Autocar Courland Next Generation Award winner Stephen Crossley tells Max Adams what he took away from his latest placement with Nissan
How did Stephen Crossley, the Autocar Courland Next Generation Award winner, get on during his latest month of work placement at Nissan’s European technical centre?
It turns out that the Oxford Brookes University student was so impressive that Andy Todd, Nissan’s director of body, exterior and CAD engineering and a member of our award’s judging panel, says the car maker was sad to see Stephen move on to his next work placement.
“We get some good people through the door via the Next Generation Award, so it was important that while Stephen was here, we gave him a real flavour of what it’s like to be on the front line of engineering,” says Todd.
“One gets the sense that my colleagues have been giving Stephen the full sales pitch, because not only did he visit the factory in Sunderland and go to Millbrook, he also went to the Infiniti technical centre [which is in partnership with] the Renault Sport Formula 1 team.
“We wanted to show off everything we do at Nissan because Stephen’s a very good engineer and perhaps we could entice him back.”
Having been declared the winner of our 2017 contest to unearth the automotive industry’s future stars, Stephen already had successful placements at Mclaren and Honda under his belt before he spent four weeks at Nissan Technical Centre Europe (NTCE), based at the Cranfield Technology park in Bedfordshire. There he worked closely with engineering teams, including Todd and also Russell Wilkins, body design project engineer, on an investigation into the best way to install door locks, gleaning some insights into how to improve the process.
At Cranfield, Nissan carries out design and development work for all the vehicles it produces in its European factories. NTCE is also the birthplace of the wildly successful Qashqai. James Frankland, Nissan Europe’s section manager of communications, explains that the company recently built its threemillionth Qashqai in the UK since that model’s launch in 2007.
The Qashqai is a car that Stephen got to know quite well during his time at Nissan. That’s because during his time at the factory in Sunderland, he witnessed it being built alongside the Leaf EV, Juke and X-trail SUVS and Infiniti Q30 and QX30.
“Previously, I was with the chassis team at Mclaren and that’s very much a team that’s focused solely on performance and then ride comfort, whereas Nissan is focused largely on comfort. It was quite an interesting contrast,” says Stephen.
His time at the Millbrook test facility was spent with Nissan’s chassis engineers: “I spent a day with the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) team to find out how they test their cars for NVH and what they do to reduce it. They were looking at wind noise from around the windscreen and how to reduce
An automotive engineer’s job is varied
it, but also how to reduce the costs of bringing down noise levels.”
Life as an engineer at Nissan is not all about driving and developing the cars, however. There’s also some administration work, which did surprise Stephen.
“It’s been nice seeing how varied the job of being an automotive engineer actually is,” he says. “It sometimes involves doing something that’s not engineering related. For example, when engineers were developing the heated windscreen that’s now available on the Qashqai, they had to pitch it in a presentation to another department. They had to explain what it was, what the advantages were and then go on to say how it fit in with Nissan values and which other manufacturers were doing it in this segment.”
Stephen’s time at Nissan was also useful in helping him to further understand the intricacies of developing the ride and handling of a car. The engineering challenges stem from the fact that the Qashqai not only comes with multiple wheel sizes but two rear suspension options depending on whether you have front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The engineering team has the task of tuning the various suspension setups to make sure they all maintain a similar level of driver comfort.
“It’s been quite interesting because it’s a very difficult thing to do with a car such as the Qashqai, which has to be an all-rounder,” Stephen says.
His next placement is with Toyota GB in Epsom, Surrey. He’ll be with the firm’s product marketing team, learning what Toyota is doing in terms of advertising its current range and how it conducts market research into what customers want from future models.
Wilkins (centre) and Todd deliver their verdicts on award winner Crossley
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