As part of commemorations marking its 80th anniversary, Nissan Motor...

As part of commemorations marking its 80th anniversary, Nissan Motor Company held the Nissan 360 brand showcase event in Irvine, Calif., during August and September. Credit: Nissan

It's almost like a quadrennial world convention, an automotive extravaganza they call the Nissan 360, which featured a self-driving automobile and a couple of astonishing electric performance cars.

For the third time since 2004, Nissan gathered nearly every vehicle it sells around the world to demonstrate its reach and grasp of the automotive industry.

The 360 was conducted for six weeks at the old El Toro Marine air base near Irvine, Calif. The event introduced 900 journalists and assorted customers, financial analysts and selected others to 140 of Nissan's vehicles.

Jeff Kuhlman, Nissan's vice president for global communications, said the 360s were held to build awareness of the Japanese company's confidence and strength on the world stage, along with its dedication to consumers and advanced environment-conscious technology.

Vehicles arrayed at El Toro ranged in size from the Moco, a tiny but roomy four-door hatchback with a 51-horsepower, 660 cc three-cylinder engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission, to the Civilian diesel stick-shift bus and the brutish NT450 Atlas truck, which can haul two to four tons of cargo. The vehicles are not sold in the United States.

Because some vehicles did not meet U.S. safety and emission regulations, they were driven exclusively on the El Toro grounds. Others could be driven on city streets and highways around Irvine.

Power plants ranged from gasoline and diesel engines to an assortment of non-polluting electrics, including a semi-autonomous Nissan Leaf that is a precursor to the self-driving cars of the future.

On a demonstration course, the electric Leaf, on its own, passed a moving car, avoided construction barriers, and slammed on the brakes and stopped when a pedestrian -- actually a dummy -- ran into its path from between parked cars. It also found a space in a simulated shopping center parking lot and backed in, all on its own.

All of this is accomplished with forward radar and a high-resolution camera, laser scanners on the sides, four around-view cameras and a dozen sonar sensors -- six in front and six in the rear.

Nissan says its semi-autonomous car, still in development, will be ready for public use by 2020. However, along with others of its kind from different manufacturers, it will have to be integrated into the existing vehicle population, which totals nearly 250 million cars and trucks in the United States. There are many unknowns about how it all will work.

Another amazing electric was the Infiniti Emerge-E, a concept sports car with all-wheel drive and two mid-mounted electric motors that together develop 402 horsepower. They enable the Emerg-E to hit 60 miles an hour in four seconds.

With its electric motors' characteristic of immediate torque, or twisting force, the Emerg-E fairly leapt off the line and rapidly traversed an autocross course.

The low-slung coupe, which looks like one of those expensive exotic super cars, also carries a three-cylinder gasoline engine to recharge its onboard batteries -- a system similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt.

Another electric was the Leaf Nismo RC, a dedicated race car that weighs just 2,055 pounds and can accelerate to 60 miles an hour in six seconds. It is low-slung and handles like a slot car. In an all-out race, the 48 lithium ion batteries can keep the car running for about 23 minutes.

The super car machinations were not confined to electrics. Nissan also showed its all-wheel drive, 545-horsepower Juke-R and its GT-R GT3 race car, which features a 550-horsepower, 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers.

Although the high-performance vehicles garnered much of the attention, the Nissan 360 also featured more mundane vehicles that are part of the company's world strategy.

One of the more important ones is the revival of the Datsun nameplate on the Go, a four-door hatchback that will be sold initially in India, Russia, Indonesia and South Africa. The Datsun name, which dates back to the 1930s, became famous in the United States in the 1970s with the Datsun 240Z sports car and the nifty 510 two- and four-door sedans, which featured high performance, great handling and reliability at budget prices.

An unusual car was the Almera, a version of the Nissan Sentra that is sold in Russia. It features a 101-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. More importantly, it comes with a sheet steel underbody to protect its innards from pockmarked Russian roads.

Although Nissan has paid a great deal of attention to battery technology and electric vehicles, it also has been developing diesel engines, which are favored in Europe.

An example is the seven-passenger Evalia van, which is sold in Europe, India and Indonesia. It is powered by an 84-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder diesel engine with a five-speed manual gearbox.  

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