Traditional Japanese design principles inform the car concept’s origami-like lines, cedar headliner and interior layouts
NEW YORK • Sunday night at a private event in Detroit, Infiniti unveiled an all-electric crossover concept, the Infiniti QX. The first all electric vehicle made by Nissan Motor Co’s luxury subbrand, the all-wheel-drive concept has two motors, one set on each axle of the car.
But things didn’t go smoothly during the official public press conference on Monday.
Engineers failed to coax the car on stage after a video-intro crescendo cue. As the crowd watched, Karim Habib, Infiniti’s executive design director, kept talking through his scripted presentation as the electric vehicle stayed backstage.
It was an embarrassing moment for a brand that has struggled in recent years to find its voice. And that’s putting it lightly, according to its new president Christian Meunier.
“Infiniti, for a lot of reasons, has been very much middle-of-the-road for many, many years and has tried to do too many things,” Meunier said during a private interview before the debut on Monday. “We don’t need 50 different models like the Germans. We need the ones that will give us the edge in the marketplace.
That means we can’t be the car for everyone — and that’s the big shift that is happening now for Infiniti.”
The QX is still in “design study” form, which means it will never make it to production, but the concept does hint at the direction Infiniti hopes to go in coming years.
Not a moment too soon. At a forecasting breakfast the morning of the debut, Cox Automotive Inc analysts said crossovers and SUVS will be the next dominant segment in the automotive market — even more so as the market for them tends toward high-performing electric power.
“SUVs have become cars with SUV bodies sitting on top of them,” said Karl Brauer, senior director of content and executive publisher for Cox Automotive, during a talk pegged to the North American International Auto Show. “It used to be a big delta divide in performance if you got an SUV over a car. But now they basically feel like cars. The vehicles at this show point to that now more than ever.”
As part of the Groupe Renault-Nissan- Mitsubishi Motors Corp alliance, an agreement among those automakers to share intelligence and components, Infiniti is well-suited to have its own electric-powered vehicle and is one of the last premium or luxury brands to show a working example. Audi AG and Jaguar have already put all-electric SUVs into production.
The chiselled QX, which looks not unlike a crouching predator, is a strong step in the right direction — if you’re going by looks. It shows that Infiniti is tapping into what makes it unique. There’s a headliner made from red cedar, a marble centre console and colouration inside and out to reference the white snow of Mount Fuji and ancient Japanese lacquerware.
The rear space is minimal, devoid of buttons or creature-comfort technology. The burls of the sugi wood in the roof of the car were deliberately left to evoke the idea that imperfection can be artistically beautiful.
“We haven’t really embraced our Japanese heritage until now,” said Alfonso Albaisa, the design director for Infiniti. “It’s time.”
From the outside, Infiniti says, the car incorporates elements of origami, with the lines on the grille-less front matching the look of creases in folded paper. The thin front headlights and a single rear taillight add to the effect. Twenty-two-inch wheels and rear edges that seem to fold in toward each other at the back make the car look muscular — even stocky. This all looks vastly different, and more realistic, than the other electric prototypes Infiniti has shown, such as the Rocketeer-like Prototype 10. The manufacturer has promised that all its cars from 2021 and later will have some form of electric propulsion; other prototypes, such as the Project Black S Hybrid, have explored hybrid technology.
Inside, the QX is meant to feel like a lounge and follows the Japanese principle of omotenashi, or warmth of hospitality in a given space. Since it lacks a transmission, and the battery pack sits low, beneath the white suede floor, there’s lots of flat space through the centre of the car. That follows the idea of ma, Infiniti executives explained at the debut — that is, how open spaces between lines create tension and anticipation.
Technology inside the SUV is limited to its front, mostly dominated by a gold-tinted dashboard monitor that spans the entire width of the vehicle. Elsewhere, there’s a “dramatic reduction” in the number of buttons required to control temperature, sound, navigation and other systems.
And, like other electric and self-driving concepts from BMW AG and Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings plc, the car is fully drivable by a human hand. But the steering wheel and lower pedals retract if the driver wants to hand over driving responsibilities to the car.
Infiniti hasn’t released technical specifics of the QX, such as the range of the vehicle or how fast it could get to 60mph, but at this point, that would be speculation at best.