Nissan engineers create the Sparky, a Leak pickup inspired by the Frontier

Article by Christian A., on September 18, 2014

There is an adage that says necessity is the mother of invention. At Nissan’s Technical Center, based in Stanfield, Arizona, this is what the many engineers put to heart. In this facility, these engineers not only love building things, but also enjoy testing and even tinkering with them. The team also puts into mind the question of “why not?” Their newest creation is a truly unique electric vehicle, one that can haul people and supplies around the Technical Center. For those around the campus, this new model is dubbed as the Sparky. The Sparky was created to be exceptional, bringing with it a highly specific mission.

This model was made possible by Nissan’s very own Roland Schellenberg and Arnold Moulinet, both from the brand’s Durability & Reliability group. A good way to describe the Sparky is that it is a Nissan LEAF combined with a Nissan Frontier, and supports the brand’s operations at its 3,050-acre facility in Stanfield. According to Schellenberg, the group wanted to keep it a secret as well as exciting for everyone. However, each time the facility has visitors, he added, they see the truck and instantly ask what it is. Once they start looking at this model, he continued, it allows for excellent conversation.

Schellenberg said that he needed a project for a team building activity as a way to bring the entire team together. The team knew that they needed a truck, a shop truck, he said further, as well as something that they could drive around. Given that there were many considerations, it took many months to make this truck. To their advantage, Moulinet had the right tool-set in order to make this model into reality. Moulinet shared that once Schellenberg revealed they were designing the LEAF, he immediately went home and even stayed up until 4 AM in order to come up with different designs to determine what would work.

He added that what it entailed was getting the stock LEAF and then looking over various designs of pickup trucks already available at Nissan and chose the Frontier bed. Moulinet also revealed that his main job is to work on rough-road vehicles and even rough-road testing. He continued by saying that he is excellent at completely taking apart cars to its bare frame and then putting them back together again after which testing is resumed. While the Sparky is a slick truck, Schellenberg disclosed, it is not as tough.

He said that he sees it as a boy, but one with a heart. This model is something that the team put together, he added, and they all share. Because of this, he continued, it has a little of everyone in it. Given that the Technical Center is located at a low-desert terrain, it allows for an ideal environment in order to test vehicles. Specifically for heat durability, air conditioner performance, engine cooling air, and of course, hot weather.

The facility also has four individual road courses and even a 5.7-mile high-speed oval. It is here that the ride comfort, reliability, and durability of the vehicle are tested. Overall, the Sparky is part of the support team that ensures that operations are able to run in a smooth manner. Nissan’s new LEAF is based on the bespoke EV platform having a wheelbase measuring 2,700 mm. Overall length is 4,445 mm with width at 1,770 mm.

Height meanwhile is 1,550 mm. The unique shape of the new LEAF makes it extremely aerodynamic. Compared to the original LEAF, subtle changes have been implemented to the grille of the new version. In addition, the 17-inch wheel has a new design that lowers the coefficient of drag to 0.28. On the front section, the headlights are slim as well as being almost vertical.

These are framed with LED lighting, though available on top models. Since the lights are able to channel the airflow away from the vehicle’s door mirrors, it lowers the wind noise while also assisting with the aerodynamics. In designing the body, the brand made use of its “smart fluidity” principle. That is, the kicked-up roofline is able to merge to the large spoiler.

Though the new LEAF has a form that allows it to cheat the wind, so to speak, this is enhanced even more with the smooth and flat underfloor. Under the rear view, the dominating feature is the vertical, gently curved, and thin taillights. Since the new LEAF is an electric vehicle, there is no sign of an exhaust pipe. Nissan disclosed that for this new version, it expanded the choices of color for the exterior. In the original version, only three were available and these are blue pearl metallic, metallic silver and white pearl. Added are black metallic, grey, red pearl metallic, and solid white, increasing the choices to seven.

On the inside, Nissan also put in significant changes like the new seats. The seats in the front have all been redesigned to allow for better support. In addition, these same seats now have height adjustment integrated to them. Further, they have been reshaped in order to allow for the leg room of those sitting in the rear an additional 53 mm. To make this happen, the front seats have been reprofiled. The leg room was increased since the rear seat passengers can now place their feet under the front seats.

Nissan also put in bio-fabric covering, the same one first introduced for the brand’s Acenta grade. One difference is that for the new model, the material is practically CO2 neutral and sustainable. This is because while the old model had material made of 39% recycled plastic bottles, 100% of the new bio-fabric is taken mainly from sugar cane. Under the Tekna grade, black leather is fitted.

However all of the grades will have the dark and more practical interior finish, making it suitable to Europe, especially its winter conditions. These are not the only changes done to the interior as there is now a parking brake that is foot-operated. This meant that the center console now has additional space since there was no longer any need for the electric parking brake switch. The space can now be utilized as extra storage for keys or even a phone.

Press Release


If necessity is the mother of invention, engineers fuel that fire at Nissan's Technical Center in Stanfield, Arizona. Here engineers are plentiful. They love to build things, test things and tinker with things. This team thinks a lot about "why not?" Recently they created a one-of-a-kind electric vehicle to haul supplies and people around on the tech center property.

"We tried to keep it a secret and be exciting for everybody. But we have visitors and they come and they see that truck and they go straight to 'what is it?' and they start looking at it, and it makes great conversation," said Roland Schellenberg, Nissan Durability & Reliability.

This is Sparky, as he's known around the campus. It is a Nissan LEAF crossed with a Nissan Frontier, brought to life by Nissan's Roland Schellenberg and Arnold Moulinet. Sparky is a one-of-a-kind creation with a specific mission in life. He supports operations at Nissan's proving grounds located on 3,050 acres in Stanfield, Arizona.

"I needed a project for a team building activity so we can bring the team together. We had a need for a truck. Something to drive around, a shop truck," said Schellenberg.

It was months in the making, and there were many considerations, but Arnold Moulinet, Schellenberg's colleague in the Durability & Reliability group, had the right tool-set to fabricate the vehicle into reality.

"After he (Schellenberg) told us it was going to be the LEAF that we would redo, I went home and stayed up till like four in the morning making all kinds of designs for what would work. We basically got the stock LEAF, and after reviewing a bunch of designs of pickup trucks that we have here at Nissan, we decided to go with a Frontier bed. My main job here is working on rough-road vehicles, rough-road testing. I'm pretty good at taking cars completely apart to the bare frame and putting them back together again to resume testing," said Moulinet.

The low-desert terrain at Nissan's technical center provides an ideal environment to test vehicles for hot weather, heat durability, engine cooling and air conditioner performance. There is also a 5.7-mile high-speed oval and four individual road courses designed to test vehicle durability, reliability and ride comfort. Sparky now is part of the support team to help operations run smoothly.

"Being a slick truck, and not so tough, I see it as a boy – but a boy with a heart. It's something that we all put together. We all share. So it has a little bit of everybody in there," said Schellenberg.

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