The charming and usually unflappable Karim Habib, design director of Infiniti, is looking hassled. He’s just experienced the nightmare scenario that all auto show presenters dread – the car didn't arrive in time for its launch slot. Heads may well roll, but for the time being there's an empty turntable where the Infiniti QX Inspiration should be, and he had to talk about the car without actually having a car. Tricky.
He is, however, putting a brave face on it. “At least my next presentation will be easier,” he deadpans. “It will have to be.” The QX Inspiration did, however, actually turn up in the end and there’s certainly quite a bit to talk about.
It’s a concept SUV, designed to be electric, and features a host of interesting details. Many refer back to the Japanese concepts that Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan design head and Habib’s boss, started introducing to the brands as a way of giving them a distinct visual and cultural signature (there’s a deep dive into that on the Infiniti release we’ve reproduced at right). Habib has taken that further, using a variety of techniques to bring to mind Japan’s heritage and design – taking his cues particularly from architecture and interior design rather than the automotive world.
“The headlamps (below) have a pattern on them,“ he explained, “which we call the ‘kimono fold’ – you can see where the pattern looks like folded fabric.
“One of the other interesting things about Japanese houses is that they often have light filtered through paper or latticework screens. I referenced that with the roof, which casts a very distinct pattern thanks to the wooden slats.
“The interiors of the doors were also designed like a piece of furniture – in this case, a sideboard.
“And the centre console is very much a table. In fact we designed it as a standalone unit. It actually is a table.”
The interior fittings are an intriguing mix of materials, from marble flooring to deliberately rough, knotty wood, and a variety of techniques have been used to shape it, from very traditional hand craft to digitally produced patterns, for instance on the floor.
Outside, though, the proportions and shape are serene and sleek, with few but carefully considered details. “It was a difficult balance between making it calm but keeping some personality in there,” explains Habib. “The proportions are not the classic ones you’re taught in college, but we thought ‘why not?’.”
The show stand itself very closely matched the QX Inspiration’s ethic – not too surprising, as Habib was involved in that too. “It’s great to get a chance to do that sort of thing,” he enthused. “At BMW [his previous post] you just did your little bit and other people did everything else. At Infiniti, we have a small team and we get to do a bit of everything. I’m really enjoying it, and I think I’m doing better work than ever.”
Judge for yourself with the help of the enormous gallery of sketches and images on the right. There’s a video of the car here too, and we’ve attached their very detailed press release for good measure, also at right.
The only thing you’ve missed is watching it being launched in Detroit. But, let’s face it, so did its designer...