Q&A With Nissan Designer Alfonso Albaisa
Nissan is back with a new concept version of its most iconic sports car. It’s called the Nissan Z Proto and is clearly inspired by the original Datsun 240Z from 1970. (Look for yourself at our exclusive photos – the inspiration for the Proto is clear.) Due to time zone and travel restrictions, Instead of directly interviewing Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president for global design, we submitted a list of questions to the Nissan communications team and received an audio file in return. The following transcript of this interview has been edited for clarity and length.
MotorTrend: Is there a specific design language you want the Z Proto to communicate or pass on to people who see it?
Alfonso Albaisa: This one is definitely where the 300 comes in. Jun Shimizu was this year’s Chief Design Officer [of Nissan 300ZX], and he really dreamed that modern manufacturing was going to create this seamless, perfectly flushed, integrated car, and he did. The 300 was so inspiring to me. It was my first trip to Japan and I walked into the studio and saw the 300. I literally packed my pencils and wanted to go home crying because I couldn’t believe a car could. be so dreamlike – simple and always take your breath away.
So Tai-san [Satoru Tai, Nissan executive design director] and I really wanted to revisit that feeling of transparency. The mood of the car, we want the public, buyers, lovers to feel this harmony and [say], “Wow, how did they get this car assembled so neatly?” but still be a tribute to the 240. So these ideas, they are not in opposition, but in the end, this is why this design was chosen as our desire because it mixed tomorrow with our love of memory.
MT: What are some of the elements or maybe a central element that you think captures the Z identity in this new design?
AA: I use memory instead of retro because it is an important difference. Because when a car is 50 years old and you are designing in the modern age, I think it is healthier to use memory than [be completely] literal. There are a few things that are a good example of this: the posture in the center of the car. Yes, it’s 240, in memory. But in fact, the gesture, the hood and the power are largely of the modern age. Its position is very wide, very low, much lower. The rear edge of the car is lower than the fender – which the 240, even 260 and 280, did not have. We’ve really, really worked with engineering: how do we find that balance?
They are in love with sports cars like us. So we worked on that balance because we want, when you see the car, that it evokes fond memories of the 240. And then moving towards the front of the car, of course, the current 240 has circular lamps. But when we did, we didn’t like it that much. Luckily we got a car from the Zama museum [Nissan Heritage Collection of historic cars, located in the city of Zama, Japan] which was a special version with the transparent lens covering the [headlamp] circle. In some views, reflections from the surroundings obscured the circle. And we said, “Bingo! This is it!” This is where the two arcs – where the interruption enters – represent the reflections of that glass lens. This allowed us a little more freedom to express a modern facade, again with the memory of 240.
MT: When you look at the production car versus the Z Proto, how much does production engineering push you back? How would you describe the relationship between the Proto and the production car?
AA: I think the word Proto is a wonderful word because it kind of explains where we are at, right? Designers and engineers fell in love with intention. Now the baton is over and they are going to build a world class performance car. They’re going to polish and do things and put in their love, the last bits of love, because they’ve been involved in all the aero and stuff. They defined the architecture, they developed the engine and all that. But a car, especially a high performance car, is really about the drive and how you connect with the experience. So they have it now and they are running at full speed.
MT: As for the project itself, was Z a competition between all the studios worldwide, or was it awarded?
AA: If it wasn’t a competition, it would have been a coup. From the start, to avoid insurgency, we opened it up to everyone in design around the world. We have a lot of studios. Everyone participated. This is where the specter of Z was really fully explored. Interestingly, the one in London and the one in Japan both played with this modern 240 type. There was a Californian one that was an entirely modern reinterpretation. As things developed, the energy started around those 240 and 300 memories, and that’s how it is. So yes, we were all in the pool. I don’t know if it was a [water] polo match or synchronized swimming. I’m not sure, but we were all in the water.
MT: What element of the design was the most difficult to achieve?
AA: Probably the part I’m most proud of, and the part that demanded our eyes on the model at all times, was the centerline, the silhouette. Two things really helped with this: the katana – the silver element on the glass line really helped to highlight the low rear. Then this character line crosses the side of the body, which is slightly tilted. You might ask, well, what is the meaning of that line? As you walk around in the car, this slanting line, moving forward, jumps over the fender in a kind of pointed shape, which is from 240. This little opening on the hood. Even from that element, we were able to bring in some memory from the car to help transform this car into what we wanted, which was a pure, very low performance, low center of gravity car. It’s not a retro car, it’s pure modern performance.
MT: Many design teams now incorporate little Easter eggs or hidden gems into their designs. Are there any on this car that you want to tell people about?
AA: It is a good one. I like to think of the whole car as an Easter Egg because it’s, at a glance, a modern car. But when it stops anywhere, people are going to have the feeling of “Oh my god”. At the same time, for many of us, the memories will fly away. Little Easter eggs are everywhere, especially when you get close to them. The fog lights; the signature circle-but-it-is-not-a-circle. The Z logo on the side of the body looks, at a glance, like a new take on it, but it isn’t. It’s really almost exactly the graphic of the first one, but a bit modern in the circle around it. We played between analog and digital inside, with the three dials. The graphic above, which is analog, a physical dial. But when the car starts, you will see a digital version of the speedometer. The way we play with the constant back-and-forth between modern day technology and the memories you hold dear, it’s a bit like the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg.
MT: What are you most proud of in the design of Z Proto?
AA: I think it all came to me when the Z Proto got out of the truck – the sense of memory. Because the car, when it finally got out and got out and I saw it in its full working condition, it’s so transparent and so pure. The car that I love so much, so much, and especially the growth I had after seeing a terracotta model, was in this car. But at the same time, it was the memory of the 6 year old from the 240. I am proud that the team was able to make two or three cars in one car. It is not a mixture of things. It’s a pure expression of at least two cars. I know when I get into it, on a track, I’ll be proud of my engineering brothers and sisters, that’s for sure.