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January 14 2008: 5:02 PM EST
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Nissan exec: Car culture is fading

Worldwide, people are losing interest in automobiles, one executive says.

By Alex Taylor, Fortune senior editor

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DETROIT (Fortune) -- If you are looking for some insight into what the automobile of the future will look like you could do worse than talk with Tom Lane. An American, he runs all of Nissan's Product Strategy anad Product Planning from his office in Tokyo.

Unlike most executives, he welcomes the imposition of new U.S. fuel regulations that mandate 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

"It is not an issue" for Nissan (NSANY) he says.

He expects the new regs to drive more small cars, improved technoloy, and a broader variety of shapes and sizes, as designers try to get more variety out of similarly-sized vehicles.

But he points to some discouraging global trends that don't bode well for the industry.

He notes that consumers in Japan are losing their mojo when it comes to cars. The population is aging, and younger drivers would rather spend their money on new cellphones and Internet access.

"Japan is increasingly not interested in new cars," he says.

The population in Europe is aging too, and Lane sees similar ennui spreading there. As car ownership becomes more expensive and cities increasingly impose congestion pricing on car usage in center cities, he sees car owners switching to mass transit for their daily commute, and then renting cars for longer trips.

"The U.S. is headed that way," he says. "The challenge for us, going forward, is a more interesting offer. Doing a better Sentra or an Altima isn't going to do it." To top of page