A grocery store is not the most obvious source of creative inspiration for the cars of tomorrow.
But when Brenda Parkin and her colleagues are mulling interior design options for Nissan's latest models, supermarkets are a regular port of call.
"Grocery stores are phenomenal for inspiration," explains Parkin, color and material manager at Nissan Design America's center in San Diego, where the Japanese auto giants' designs for the North American market are dreamed up.
Parkin's team is responsible for coming up with the interior furnishings of Nissan's latest cars, finding a harmony of colors and materials that attract drivers and make them never want to leave the confines of the vehicle.
An outside visitor to Parkin's studio is given no clue as to the nature of the work. The cars her design team work on are kept in a separate part of the complex, well away from prying eyes, and it usually takes between two and three years from design creation to production.
The interior car designers are surrounded by row upon row of plastic bins containing a hotch-potch of different objects and materials such as wood, light bulbs and metals.
"We have a very naive approach, we play with materials," Parkin says.
Bruce Campbell, a vice president at Nissan Design America, said attention to detail was the key quality.
"A good designer is someone who has good observation skills, plus good hand skills, eye skills," Campbell said.
To that end, Nissan has sanctioned the installation of tennis and volleyball courts at the center, where employees are also able to take yoga classes during work hours.
"Nobody's chained at a desk, drying, you have to do 10 sketches at the end of the day," Campbell says. "If somebody wants to work late in the day and work all night, it's fine, as long as the idea is there. We don't care where the idea comes from, as long as they're great ideas."
While Campbell recognizes that the creative process can't be rushed, Nissan is always seeking to reduce the window from design inception to creation.
Nissan is one of around 15 manufacturers that have a design center in southern California, either in San Diego or Los Angeles, which is hosting the Dec 1-10 Los Angeles Auto Show.
"If there's something that is going to happen in the world of design, car design specifically, it's going to happen in southern California, period," says Campbell, citing the enterprising spirit and diversity the state is famous for. "Nobody is really from southern California -- people bring lots of ideas, background. We can observe, see, smell so many points of view."
"We're free enough to do different proposals, that's our role, to offer an unique perspective. We work here on major milestones with Japan, but we're free to manage ourselves," he said.
At an event on the eve of press days for the Los Angeles Auto Show, Nissan said it will roll out a new Altima hybrid sedan and coupe as well as a souped-up version of the Sentra small car early next year, company officials said on Tuesday night.
The automaker showed off the new versions.
The hybrid, powered by a 2.5 liter four-cylinder gasoline engine as well as an electric motor, initially will be sold in eight US states starting in January. The full-sized car will get 65km per gallon (3.8 liter) of gasoline in the city and 36 on the highway, the company said.