Automakers, Tech Try to Dial Up Smart Cars

On a scorching summer day at Nissan's (NSANY) Advanced Technology Center, a team of researchers and their visitors pile into two cars and begin circling the parking lot. The facility, an hour's train ride southwest of Tokyo in the town of Atsugi, is a hub for thousands of designers and engineers who work on the next generation of cars. Their debates are usually about green engines, lithium-ion batteries, or carbon-fiber frames. On this day, though, the visitors aren't from a car company—they're from Google (GOOG), and they've come to see Nissan's latest navigation system prototypes and discuss closer collaboration. "I firmly believe that smart automobiles will have a positive effect on quality of life—traffic, speed to get places, safety," says John Hanke, who led the Google delegation. "Google is thinking beyond maps and search in the car."

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