Hi, everyone! I’m Alfonso Albaisa, and I design cars for INFINITI. I’m here at the Detroit Auto Show where we just unveiled the new QX50 Concept, and I’m here to answer any questions you have about cars and design. Feel free to ask me anything!

EDIT: Updated - My proof

more proof + more proof

EDIT 2: We're wrapping up. Thank you again for all your questions!

Comments: 86 • Responses: 17  • Date: 

Camsy3421 karma

Where do you get your inspiration for design from?

What is the first thing you look at when designing a new car?

Alfonso_Albaisa33 karma

That's a great question! It seems like a basic question, but it's always a difficult one to answer no matter how many times I try. It happens out of so many different places. I'm extremely lucky that I have four global studios, so I have one in Beijing, I have one in So Cal, I have one in London, and of course one in Japan. So culturally they're so different, so what happens is when you're a guy from Miami working in Japan is that you can't trust language as communication, so things become very visual ... so I'm bombarded by stuff from the world constantly, daily, every hour. And fundamentally it inspires me. So short answer - my international team and their diverse opinions and personalities is an endless source for me.

Because we're a big company, we have product planning as a different group and they come to us with profiles of different people and show us the ambition of the customer in four years and how they want to live, and their life, and their history and where they're going, and it kind of jars you because as designers we live in our own little minds and little worlds, and we live in high security areas where we spend a lot of hours, so immediately we get this picture of a person, and then we start drawing and we start seeing sketches and bouncing ideas off each other globally. So we start inside and outside at the same time, what do we think is cool, what's the vibe happening globally that we like in other industries and we throw it all together into one big mess - there are so many drawings it's almost intimidating, even after 30 years...so this kind of early reduction of great ideas is very painful, it's a lot like salmon swimming upstream and so many are lost- that's how it is in the early phases of the drawings. Then we migrate into models, and eventually one comes out of a factory years later. One salmon makes it!

Camsy343 karma

Thanks for answering, it's interesting getting an inside perspective on something most people only see the end result of. Has there been any designs over the years that you've had a particular fondness for but which has never made it to reality?

Alfonso_Albaisa29 karma

Yes. The Q80, most recently. The INFINITI Q80 was a 5.2meter long 5-door hatch. I love old Hollywood, this image of the day when cars were coach built - a car company would go to a coach builder to make a bespoke car for a Hollywood director - and when we made Q80 there was a sense of that. Like this car was the most elegant car on the street, and a car that would be the first one that kids would remember if they saw it on the street. That silhouette would slow life down, almost like a black hole. I'm still always trying to squeeze that car into something. Executives will be like "Hey Alfonso, we need a toaster" and I'll be like "Hey! How about the Q80?"

smithy115518 karma

What do you believe the alternative fuel of the future is going to be and how far away are we from it being fully implemented into cars?

Alfonso_Albaisa13 karma

It depends how you categorize alt fuel, since the first answer is electric which is something that exists today. I am very curious about alternative fuel and what its implication will be for INFINITI, as batteries get better and electric motors get more powerful it'll be a more dominant source. There are then fuels that can generate electricity, like hydrogen...so I do think electrification is something that's leading the race.

mariangelalala16 karma

What are the challenges of bringing a concept car to actual production? How do you think the QX50 will change/stay true the concept?

Alfonso_Albaisa15 karma

QX50 is about 90% close to the production, and the interior is more like 95%. That kind of car's intention is to create a discussion about the car company, so it has a very high likelihood to be similar to production. The challenge on other show cars is that they're still in their infancy, so they need business plans and public support. That's the big benefit of a show car, it gets people talking. The hardest part of a show car is the heartbreak of finishing, because it's a great process- especially when it's a pure concept show car.

GoodSon12314 karma

Hi Alfonzo. Thanks for doing this AMA. First off, I really love the shape of Infinity cars and that swoopy brush stroke shape.

I have two subjects that interest me and design enthusiasts all around. (I hope)

First, what do you think of this sport activity vehicle niche? Did Chris Bangle invent this at BMW with the x5 or was that just an outgrowth of the American market? It's really been a big change because even as recently as 2000, no one had ever heard of the concept of a "performance" SUV. The FX was really a leader in this segment too, of course.

My second question is about electrics: why don't you have any? Clearly your parent companies have a wealth of experience with electric cars, car sharing, and all the latest technology. Surely you have the technology to build a an excellent PIH or full electric to compete with the Model X, the Cayenne Hybrid and the XC90 hybrid. Why is Infinity still stuck on ICE?

Edit: FX

Alfonso_Albaisa14 karma

I'm about to bore you! The X5 was the first one. But humbly I believe it was a half-step, that the FX which was developed as the second one (the Qx70) was much more of a departure. Back in 1999 we would get photos in the mail, this is how old that is, and directors of the region would help select designs for production ... I looked through those designs and found one that looked like an egg that swallowed an aircraft carrier, it was something I'd never seen before. So I'd argue that Hideo Komuro is the inventor of the sport crossover, and he works on my team today and he designed the Q60.

Alfonso_Albaisa12 karma

As for electrics, it's a possibility for INFINITI but I can't speak of that right now. We're really going for it as a corporation - more to come.

GoodSon1233 karma

That's amazing. You're right about the FX and that combination of strong and rounded. Loved that car. Thank you for this AMA.

Alfonso_Albaisa7 karma

You're welcome!


Do you consider a hotdog to be a sandwich?

Alfonso_Albaisa17 karma

The hot dog is a category. Not a sandwich.

OShaner_Rules10 karma

If Infiniti were an animal, what type of animal would it be?

Alfonso_Albaisa19 karma

Cheetah. Because the internal project name for the first QX70 was Bionic Cheetah. It's a high-speed cat, very specialized, very focused, very purposeful, a little iconically different than a normal cat.

warhead_overload8 karma

What's your daily driver, and what do you like most about its design?

Alfonso_Albaisa13 karma

My daily driver is a Q70. In Japan we don't have the full INFINITI lineup so I have a Q70, which has a different name in Japan. Mostly I drive so much, I drive about 50 miles each way every day in Tokyo, so that's a big traffic situation so it's really comfortable. I want a Q60 of course, but we don't have them in Japan. In the US I have a QX70.

weirddodgestratus8 karma

How would one best get into the field of car design?

It was always a childhood dream of mine, kinda like being an astronaut or a firefighter. I've since gone into a different field, but I'm curious.

Alfonso_Albaisa17 karma

If you're young you really just need to start drawing and dreaming all the time. Don't hesitate and don't put limits on yourself, because it'll be the best thing to prepare yourself for art or design school. We don't care where you come from, car designers don't need any particular knowledge - they just need ideas. And you need to be independent since there are a lot of people who want the job, but there are limited jobs available. So we'll get a lot of portfolios but there are only 1-2 openings a year. What really stands out is individuality. Technical skills are easy to achieve, but that spark that makes you stand out is what matters. So find who you are, amplify your soul in your drawings and in your models. Look at what's great that's already out there, but don't let it affect you. Study a lot, but don't let that studying cause you to lose your identity. I like artists, I like people who were born different, because we're a creative community.

BLNKCHK6 karma

Other than an Infiniti, what's your all-time favorite car design?

Alfonso_Albaisa19 karma

(Edit: Formatting) 911. It's my spring water, it's the most clean and clinical yet somehow I feel a heartbeat in it.

HumanBeam5 karma

Hola, Alfonso! I'm curious: considering a concept car defines what the rest of a brand's vehicles will look like, how do you determine the characteristics you want to give it? And how much of this is based on trends? Thanks

Alfonso_Albaisa10 karma

I think that there are two trends that are happening: I have a collection of artists, dreamers, philosophers, poets, who are always frustrated with everything around them. They're breaking the mold before we finish making it. And they throw their toys off the trolley if we don't follow their lead - so we have an internal community of trends that are happening, so we watch that, our internal black sheep. Then we have what's happening in the market place- like in technology and consumer products.

So for the concept car, I insist that my black sheep are challenging the status quo and also including culture. The car is a mirror of culture, to me it's not a functional object. It is, but we don't need it. We've grown to need it. But it's not a requirement. Humans are the only animal that needs things beyond our own physical capability to get around, and it's as much an emotional need as it is a need to dream beyond ourselves. So I ask these black sheep to be connected to the changes in society and incorporate that, and we blend that into the show car.

At the end of the day we've been looking out, looking in, and then we make it.

pwebsea5 karma

Do you consider yourself more of an artist or an engineer? Also, you may want to link to pictures of the concept design in your original post. It looks great, well done.

Alfonso_Albaisa9 karma

I'm not very smart! Math is kind of visual for me, I do think I have an ability to immediately estimate ballpark figures of cost (but some people doubt that!). But I did study art, I studied ceramics...my father was an architect and he was an artist, so experience has made me aware of the technical requirements more than education. Luckily there are 11K engineers who work with us who have more brains than I could ever have for myself!

And thank you! (we'll update the post with links shortly)

Chayah5 karma

He Alfonso, i dont really know who you are or what INFINITI is but im gonna ask a question anyway.

How is your day going?

Alfonso_Albaisa10 karma

It's very nice! This is quite enjoyable.

itoldyousoanysayo4 karma

How's the self-driving car going? When do you think it will be common for most people to have one?

Alfonso_Albaisa5 karma

I think it'll happen very soon. What's happening right now is there are many cars that are almost self-driving. Our Q60 and our Q50 drive themselves. Last summer I drove a Q60 from Miami to Ft Lauderdale with my hands on my thighs. Within 2 years, this is going to be something that's readily available, and by 2020 this technology will come off the highway and into the city, finding parking spots and all that stuff.

ScottyF_3 karma

Do you have any thoughts on what an interior might look like without a steering wheel ?

Alfonso_Albaisa3 karma

It'll have a steering wheel, we'll need to have some way for the driver to reengage the car. I don't know if that will ever go away, but it could be a joystick if we're dreaming - it could be something other than a steering wheel. Right now most people still want to drive, so we haven't had that paradigm shift just yet. It's something that's a matter of company choice, and in the future the sense of when you allow the car to take over the steering wheel could retract into the panel so you could relax - not sleep! - that's the next step for designers.