Alfonso Albaisa is Nissan’s first non-Japanese global design chief, but his priority remains to root the brand in its Japanese heritage while simultaneously moving into the technology-driven design of tomorrow. Albaisa joined Nissan in the U.S. in 1988 and is certain that before the company can tackle the future, it must understand its past.
He feels a special responsibility as a rare non-Japanese design chief to safeguard the Japanese DNA of the company—even going to the lengths of opening an archive gallery in the Atsugi design center with memorabilia, photos and models of some of the company’s most iconic nameplates. Fast forward to now, and the new design generation looks to modernize the way designers work, slashing development times by means of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
Albasia’s VR headset allows him to see new vehicle designs from any angle, zoom in close, poke his head in the interior, digitally edit the look and share with his team in a matter of minutes. AI also has great potential to invigorate creativity. Albasia explains how it works: “Take a computer and program it with the entire history of wheel design. Next, input the data of every wheel Nissan has produced. Then, enter the engineering criteria for the new wheel you want to make and sprinkle in some background on trends.”
This technology isn’t in the Nissan studio yet, but is currently in development with Japanese universities. Furthermore, Albasia predicts that the rush of new technology soon will start translating into new looks for Nissan’s cars. Electrification and autonomous driving will eliminate the need for cumbersome engines, driveshafts and steering columns, clearing the way for human-centered vehicle proportions. “Designs will begin showing bigger, more comfortable cabins with an emphasis on flexible layout and connectivity,” explains Albaisa, while hinting that the new look will be visible in production cars as early as 2020.