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ATSUGI, Kanagawa Pref. — To understand what it’s like for a 70-year-old person to get around, Nissan designers are donning an “aging suit,” complete with a 1-kg vest, uneven shoes that make walking a precarious hobble and belts that strap knees so they can’t bend.

Such painstaking efforts have produced bits of design innovations — door handles opening from either side, easy-on-the eye displays, extra knobs in car interiors to grab for support — that Nissan Motor Co. believes are critical for Japan as the population ages.

The designers say such changes can make a big difference in winning buyers here, where a fifth of the population is 65 or older, and that proportion is expected to double in the next 30 years.

The prototypes and displays of such designs were shown to reporters Friday at Nissan’s design center in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture. The designs also fit today’s hard times, where automakers are cutting costs, because the innovations are relatively cheap because they spring from ideas, Nissan said.

“These design proposals don’t require super new technology, and most of them don’t cost that much,” Etsuhiro Watanabe, associate chief designer, said. “They’re designed to make using and seeing easier.”

For years, automakers accepted the assumptions of what a door handle, cup holder or other interior styling should look like — the industry “benchmark.”

But Nissan is breaking with tradition and starting from scratch to observe how people use cars to tackle what Watanabe calls “interaction design.”

For example, the door handle in a Nissan minivan looks more like a metal ring so it can be opened easily by either hand. Cup holders slide out, an arm’s length away, at a comfortable angle.

Watanabe, who has donned the aging suit for his designs, has also driven around with special glasses that intentionally create blurry vision.

The result: Navigation equipment that displays routes in fatter and clearer red. The numbers on speedometers also use a easier-to-read font, such as a 6 that can be more clearly differentiated from an 8.

Auto no shows

Nissan Motor Co. has said it will likely skip all but four auto shows this year as it grapples with cost reductions to cope with plunging global demand.

Tokyo-based Nissan plans to hit the shows in New York, Shanghai, Tokyo and Geneva but is putting the others under review to see they are worth the trouble, it said Friday.

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