Motoring: Infiniti concept car
To mark its 20th anniversary four years ago, Japanese carmaker Infiniti unveiled a concept car intended to embody the very essence of its design philosophy - the DNA to be instilled in all future models.
The Infiniti Essence is a 600hp luxury hybrid coupe with rear-wheel drive. At 4.7 metres in length, it is the ultimate fusion of the company's two core values, according to Infiniti design director Kei Kyu.
"The main value is dynamic performance. The other one is seductive, or elegant, execution. This mixture brings a new value to the premium market," says Kyu, who was in town this week for the opening of Infiniti's first local showroom, in Hutchison House, Central.
Infiniti, the luxury division of Nissan Motor Co, became the first carmaker to set up its global headquarters in Hong Kong when it relocated from Yokohama last year. The move was spurred by the company's plans to boost sales, and by the burgeoning market for premium cars on the mainland.
To celebrate the opening of the showroom, called Infiniti Gallery, the Essence was flown to town for a preview on Tuesday. It was as well received as when it was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2009.
The designers in Beijing are so talented. You can see this in their sketches
The body of the concept has a fluidity reminiscent of waves that bob down the side and crash over bulging front wheel arches. A sharp, straight shoulder line, by contrast, brings an element of tension. The large windscreen of the silver coupe sweeps over the occupants' heads to join seamlessly with a black roof, giving the appearance of a single wave of glass reaching from the bonnet to the boot. A chrome crescent at the C-pillar enhances the car's dynamic stance.
The interior is just as unique and dramatic. Two plush, suede-covered bucket seats nestle in their own egg-shaped cocoons, presenting the driver with a downward sloping side console and easy to reach controls. The dials at the front are designed to resemble luxury watches.
Kyu, who joined Nissan's design department in 1991, says the shape of the Essence is organic, almost human-like.
The "humanisation" approach also applies to the headlamps, he says, with the crescent shapes reminiscent of eyebrows and eyeballs.
Japanese culture is known for its harmonious relationship with the environment, and Kyu says the design of the Essence also suggests the power of nature: "It evokes waves, or a swelling energy within," he says.
"We are really familiar with nature," he adds. "This is the philosophy of the Japanese. We have tsunamis and every 100 years we have to build new buildings. This is our inescapable environment, and because of this the people have felt more close to nature since ancient times."
Infiniti offers six premium models in Hong Kong, the FX50S and FX37 crossover SUVs, M35h Hybrid, M37S and M25 sports sedans, and the G37 Convertible. A compact sedan, the Q50, will be available later in the year, replacing the G37.
Kyu says the Q50 bears a number of features first seen in the Essence. It has the double-arched grill; it's more luxurious; and it has a sportier, more youthful aerodynamic body than its predecessor.
Similarly, it features the eye-like headlamps. "All products from now on will have this signature," he says.
At the Shanghai Motor Show last month, Infiniti announced that it would be producing a long-wheelbase version of the Q50 especially for the Chinese market. Long-wheelbase models are popular on the mainland, and carmakers have responded to the demand.
How much of a role the China market and Infiniti's move to Hong Kong will play in its future design direction remains to be seen.
Infiniti has a design studio in Beijing and it runs an exchange programme in co-operation with a local design institute. Recruits go to Japan for training. But they are also keen to contribute their own ideas.
"In Beijing, the local Chinese designers are so talented. You can see it in the sketches. The market itself is so open to car culture, that passion, or emotion, comes into their sketches," Kyu says.
"It's very competitive compared with sketches we've seen in other regions."