Alfonso Albaisa is Nissan’s Senior Vice President for Global Design, and he recently received a rather interesting assignment. According to Motor Trend, Infiniti’s U.S. marketing team asked him “Imagine you are somewhere in the Japan countryside and came across a car, sheltered in a barn, hidden away for decades. Not only is it a race car, but it is also an Infiniti. What would that car look like? Could it be connected to the Infiniti production cars of today?”
“Our expectation was that Alfonso and his team would just do a sketch for us,” says Infiniti Americas communications director Kyle Bazemore. “Or maybe, at a stretch, a CG video. And perhaps, if we were extremely lucky, a clay model.”
Albaisa ran a team of designers at Infiniti’s Atsugi studio in Japan, creating a model of what was dubbed the Prototype 9. When Nissan managers saw it, they decided it had to be made—using a combination of handcraftsmanship and CNC.
“I was a little surprised,” Albaisa admits, “but it turns out they still train people in all the traditional car-building arts. They thought this was the perfect project, and they decided—on their own—to follow the design story as if [it were] real.” A team of takumi—Nissan’s master craftspeople—assembled to lead the build. Nissan’s advanced engineering team learned about the project and volunteered to help, as did Nissan’s specialty vehicle division, Autech. “Suddenly we had three of our largest departments working on it,” Albaisa says.
The tail was hand-hammered into shape by craftspeople, albeit over a laser-cut grid.
That long, gorgeous hood did not see the ministrations of a craftsperson, but was instead created by “dieless forming, using two seven-axis robots to shape the metal.” (We imagine that process is similar to Ford’s Freeform Fabrication Technology.)
The Prototype 9 has been fitted with an electric powerplant, with the batteries up front and the motor in the rear, driving the rear wheels. The performance specs don’t sound all that crazy—you can read the mechanical details here—but with this exercise, that seems beside the point.