First announced at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1987, the Pao was available with or without a textile sun roof and was originally marketed without Nissan branding, by reservation only from January 15 through April 14, 1989. Orders were delivered on a first come-first served basis, with the production run of 51,657 selling out in 3 months.
Because of its origins at Pike Factory, Nissan's special project group, the Pao — along with the Nissan Figaro, Be-1 and S-Cargo — are known as Nissan's "Pike cars."
Part of Nissan's "Pike" series, it was designed as a retro fashionable city car in the mold of the Be-1. It included external door hinges like the original 1960s Austin Mini which had become fashionable in Japan, 'flap-up' windows like those of a Citroën 2CV, and a split rear tailgate of the first British hatchback car the Austin A40 Farina Countryman. The Be-1, Pao, Figaro, and S-Cargo were attempts to create cars with designs as desirable as those of Panasonic, Sony, and other personal electronics products.
The chassis included rack and pinion steering, independent suspension with struts in front and 4-links and coil springs in back. Brakes were discs up front and drums in the rear. It has a clamshell hatch in back, meaning the glass section swings up and the bottom portion opens down to create a tailgate. The compact Pao requires just 4.4 m (14.4 ft) to turn and delivers up to 51 mpg (5.5 L/100 km) in the city and 79 mpg (3.4 L/100 km) at a steady 60 km/h (37 mph). The tires were of 155/SR12 format. The Pao was offered in four colors: Aqua Gray (#FJ-0), Olive Gray (#DJ-0), Ivory (#EJ-I) and Terracotta (#AJ-0).
The designs of the Pike cars (excepting the Figaro) are usually credited to Naoki Sakai, who also worked for Olympus, where he brought back "the brushed aluminium look". Sakai also helped design Toyota's later WiLL cars, which echo the Pike series.