Alfonso Albaisa draws upon the cultures of Japan, America and Cuba in concocting car designs with a flair that once was lacking at Japanese automakers, critics say.
ATSUGI, Japan — Alfonso Albaisa draws upon the cultures of Japan, America and Cuba in concocting car designs with a flair that once was lacking at Japanese automakers, critics say, but is becoming evident as they globalize.
The Cuban American was promoted this week to senior vice president and head of design at Nissan Motor, where he has worked on the Infiniti luxury brand’s Q30 and award-winning Q60 models.
Japanese artworks and his Cuban roots are among the influences from East and West that inspire Albaisa’s sometimes whimsically poetic approach.
“I feel a car is a dream, more than the nuts and bolts that make it real,” Albaisa said recently at the Nissan Technical Center on the outskirts of Tokyo. “It’s a reflection of our dream to fly, to move,” he said.
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Carmakers are increasingly focusing on design to woo customers in an industry where performance, safety and mileage tend to be uniformly high.
Before his latest promotion, Albaisa was a corporate vice president and design director for Infiniti.
The Infiniti Q50, which debuted at the Geneva International Motor Show this month, showcased a stylish interior with handworked materials like genuine-looking wood dashboard trims.
Albaisa speaks lovingly of that kind of dedication to craftsmanship, what the Japanese call “monozukuri.”
The 52-year-old graduate of the Pratt Institute joined Yokohama-based Nissan in the U.S. in 1988, a decade before it forged its alliance with French automaker Renault.
Partly due to the Nissan-Renault tie-up — its chairman is Brazilian-born Frenchman Carlos Ghosn — Nissan’s ranks are more diverse than many other Japanese companies: half its top 10 executives are non-Japanese, compared with about a…