Nissan’s chief designer, Shiro Nakamura, who styled hugely significant cars including the GT-R, Qashqai, 350Z, Juke, Leaf and Cube, retired in March after 17 years with the manufacturer. Nakamura has been replaced by Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s previous head of design, with ex-BMW design chief Karim Habib taking Albaisa’s role. Nakamura, 66, was brought to Nissan by Carlos Ghosn. The firm soon underwent a remarkable turnaround, going from the brink of bankruptcy to huge sales successes, among them the Qashqai, which sparked the crossover boom. In recent years, Nakamura has overseen all kinds of projects, from the super-budget Datsun brand to more experimental work with Nissan’s flagship Infiniti marque. Nakamura’s replacement, Albaisa, joined Infiniti in 2013 and designed the QX30 and QX50, as well as the Q80 Inspiration concept car. We caught up with Nakamura at the Geneva motor show, where he revealed details of many of the projects he’ll be handing over to his successor.
You’ve just facelifted the second-gen Qashqai. Are you working on its replacement?
“The next one is much more of a challenge because we have to make progress but maintain the Qashqai feel. It’s not a case of reinventing the Qashqai because it’s still the bestselling crossover. We don’t just protect today’s strengths; we have to go further. We’ve nearly finished it – it’s two or three years away.”
Do you need to improve the interior for the next Qashqai?
“The interior of the next one is not anything like today’s. It’s very different [in areas] such as the size of the screens. It’s an interior, more than an exterior, revolution. Exterior technology is just headlights and taillights, so there’s nothing new you can really show in terms of technology. But with the interior, there are so many elements you can use to show the advantages of technology.”
How do you stop interiors becoming too complicated?
“The interior is becoming more important than before. ProPilot [Nissan’s autonomous driving technology] is currently at level one; level two will come in the next Qashqai. The HMI [human-machine interface] is being designed from the outset for autonomous drive. The screen is becoming larger and will have more information on it. The number of switches won’t increase; we control how many there are. There are fewer switches but more functions. Interior functions will be much more advanced than before.”
Is it harder to replace the Juke than the Qashqai?
“The Juke must maintain its distinctiveness and funkiness. We try to be as quirky as possible. We’ll make a big step with the design, but it will still be recognisable as a Juke. Key elements must remain, such as the character of the face and proportions. Smaller cars are easier, they can be quite aggressive [in their design].”
Is a replacement for the GT-R planned?
“The GT-R is like a Porsche 911, it’s an evolution. Change for change’s sake doesn’t make sense. A new one has to be better. We make progress with it each year. This year’s version had a bigger change inside and out. We’ll continue improving every aspect. If we see the limit of improving, maybe then we will have a complete renewal. All models are selling well and we have good back orders. It’s not ageing, not in seven years.”
Will the three-seat Bladeglider concept ever be produced?
“Bladeglider is just an experiment, it’s not planned for production. Even if we can produce the right number at the right price, I don’t know if the market is big enough. It’s an interesting car, though – a real three-seater.”
What will the next Z car be?
“Z is another asset we have, a strong asset. At the same time, it’s not easy to find a proper concept. Two-seaters are really challenging and are not a big market except for Porsche. If we do a new Z, we have to do something new. Of course, we always do studies, because it’s fun, but not serious studies [of a Z]. There are no plans to communicate anything.”
Will there be more Nismo cars?
“With Nismo there is a big opportunity for a full lineup. Qashqai Nismo could be one, but we need some real upgraded performance, suspension and engine tuning, not just cosmetic changes. More Nismos are possible.”
Will Nissan ever make a city car again?
“City cars are not easy. If we could bring a Japanese kei car here it would be nice, but we can’t do that! A kei car could be a great city car. In the future, a city car could be a small EV.”
Can we expect more electric models in addition to the Leaf?
“There will be many types of EVs in the future. The Leaf is a model, not a brand. As for other electric models, yes – a saloon, an SUV, but a sports car is difficult. EVs are not only for Nissan, but also for Infiniti. A new Leaf is coming, followed by some other body type.”