Nissan is studying sensations such as smoothness and warmth for making handles, seating and other interior parts to differentiate its cars from rivals.
Nissan Motor Co. gave a demonstration to reporters Wednesday at its Yokohama headquarters of innovations that focus on tiny, almost quirky details, like minuscule bumps on fake-leather plastics, designed to give the feeling of luxury to the touch.
Japan's No. 2 automaker called such efforts, which began in 2009, "Life on Board."
"Life on Board is about turning the study of how people work into a science," said Nissan Senior Manager Naoya Fujimoto.
He stressed the efforts were not about cost-cutting, but more about raising the perceived quality of lower-cost models, as consumers around the world grow more demanding.
Among the offerings are air conditioners that moisturize the driver's skin, as well as more conventional ergonomics like seats that are easier to get in and out of.
Competition is intense among the world's automakers, and all are tackling innovations for interiors. But focusing on such minute details _ and with such fervor _ is less common.
Some textures can give an illusion of softness associated with luxury, and so tiny, barely visible bumps were added to plastic handles in the March subcompact, according to Nissan.
Another feature, available in the Leaf electric vehicle, heats just the parts of the seat that make contact with the thighs and buttocks as this quickly makes people feel warm.
Nissan said the heat is turned down after a while, saving on energy consumption _ an important feature for the green car.
Drivers can also turn down the car heater and conserve energy overall by as much as 10 percent, it said.
The Associated Press tried the Nissan seat and then a conventionally heated seat at the demonstration. The difference in warmth was clear, with the Leaf seat winning hands down.