The global unveiling of the Etherea concept car and a tie-in with reigning F1 champions Red Bull Racing made for a busy start to the year for Infiniti.
In between endless meetings and flights, we collared Nissan and Infiniti design chief Shiro Nakamura to get the low-down on the Etherea…
When did you start work on the Etherea?
'It was about 18 months ago. We’re quite organised with our timing. It was a bespoke design just for the Geneva show.'
Which means you have already started work on a concept for Geneva 2012?
'Yes, of course!'
The Etherea is front wheel drive – why the switch from rear-drive, particularly after Infiniti has consistently said it will stick to four-wheel or rear-drive architecture?
'We want to make a compact Infiniti, one smaller than the G. A rear-drive layout on smaller architecture results in tight rear accommodation [a sideways swipe at the RWD BMW 1-series]. That’s not ideal. Front-wheel drive configuration is a much better solution.'
How does a FWD layout impact on Infiniti’s design language?
'The Etherea is not a simple reskin of Qashqai. Not at all. The challenge is to create a rear-drive look. Front-drive cars have a wedgier attitude. We set out to achieve a look that had a more horizontal centre of gravity, one with more elegance while still maintaining the visual dynamism of the Infiniti style. The A-pillar was a real challenge. It’s unique and it was difficult but I think it gives the car a real cab-backwards look. I like it very much…'
How realistic is the Etherea as a production prospect?
'Show cars are always weird. We use them to experiment, you know. But there are elements here that you will see on future Infiniti models. Like the headlamps. Although they are technically very sophisticated LED lights, they have human warmth to them. And the lack of centre console on the Etherea is a very different approach for us, using space to create a feeling of luxury. But don’t expect the rear-hinged rear doors to make it onto production – they just allow people a better view of the cabin.'
You could argue the point that the Etherea is trying too hard to mix different segments…
'We see the crossover segment as one with huge potential. Look at the success of the FX. It’s an iconic car for us, embodying the strengths and character of the Infiniti brand. Traditional categories should not be ignored of course, but we are not just playing with niches here. We want to create category-breaking cars. We all feel Infiniti is too small. Europe has great potential, and even attitudes in America are changing. It wasn’t that long ago that a hatch was seen as cheap…'
What about the Infiniti EV that’s coming?
'It’s a Nissan Leaf-based four-door saloon. But it won’t be a reskinned Leaf. That would be a catastrophe. It was very challenging to design this – the Infiniti character has not been compromised. We’ve been ballsy.'
So who decides if the Etherea is built or not?
'You do! It’s up to the journalists and public to tell us if we have succeeded – or not. It’s almost like an open clinic. Give us your feedback. If it’s positive, we’ll build it. If not, we won’t.'