Interview: Alfonso Albaisa, Vice President, Nissan Design Europe
by Nick Hull    12 Oct 2007
Alfonso Albaisa at Nissan Design Europe studios. Click for larger images
Nissan Urge (2006)
Nissan Farmington Hills design studio, with design input from Albaisa
Nissan 350Z
Photos: Eric Gallina, Brett Patterson, Nissan, Marzia Gandini

Alfonso Albaisa is a designer with an unusual background. This 42 year old Cuban-American, who first studied fine art at the University of Florida, transferred to Pratt Institute in New York, where he graduated with a B.A. degree in industrial design. He also studied at CCS for one year, before becoming disenchanted. "I missed New York city, so returned to Pratt to complete my degree there. But Detroit taught me the intensity of design and what car designing really meant. The 'all-nighters', being dedicated to give up all things for the love of design," he says. His first job was in 1988 at Nissan Design America (NDA) in San Diego and he has most recently spent two years in Japan, before taking over at Nissan Design Europe (NDE) on April 1st this year.

1st inspiration: Jaguar E-Type Series III V12
Nissan Concept Quest (2002)
Alfonso Albaisa
Nissan 350Z (2002)
Nissan Qashqai (2006)

CDN: What made you decide to become a car designer?

"When I was seven years old I was completely moved by seeing a car. One day, when I was at my dad's architecture studio, I heard this amazing sound - a new black E-Type convertible. This was Miami, 1971 - so it wasn't a common car. Black car, black suited guy. I was impressed - completely. The Jag made me fall in love with the business. The sculpture of that car, the reflections, the sound!"

CDN: What achievements are you most proud of?

"The Concept Quest in 2002 was fun working with long time colleagues Robert Bower and John Cupid. The Nissan Urge in 2006 - the whole process and the collaboration with the team was great. And of course, the 350 Z, with designer Ajay Panchal. I've designed some Nissan buildings too from my architecture background: the new Farmington Hills studio, opened in 2004, for instance"

CDN: Nissan's design philosophy under SVP Shiro Nakamura was based on Japanese culture, the mix of modernity and tradition. Is that still true?

"I don't see it changing as much as evolving. Design is a mirror of our culture. He hasn't changed his intensity and his discipline but he's changed where it's pointing. We're now rethinking Nissan's form language: we've had lot of success with the 350Z and Qashqai but, as a company, we need to keep an open mind. Japan has a long history of visual expression and as a global company we have an international aspect. This mix of Japan and the world is fascinating. I've just come back from living in Japan for two years and when I'm there I always feel my brain cells jumping around"

CDN: How does NDE work with the other studios?

"More and more we're competing. On the bigger projects such as the Z, everyone works together. We're independent but connected as it's important for everyone to understand the concept and direction of the product but we still need a diverse input. So the uniqueness of NDE, NDA or the studio in Taiwan is important. On Qashqai, the interior was developed from an America proposal, the exterior from Japan and developed in UK, so it's a truly global output."