By on March 14, 2017

2014 Nissan cube

As it funnels its suit-and-ties over to Mitsubishi and rearranges its own departments like mad, Nissan is losing veteran designer, stylish dresser, and chief creative officer: Shiro Nakamura. Responsible for some of Nissan’s more radical designs, Nakamura oversaw the styling for the revamped GT-R and current 370Z, along with intentionally quirky models like the Juke, Leaf, and Cube.

Nakamura said his designs were purposefully modern and intended to express the “shock of the new.” The objective was to amend the company’s western image as a discount brand and give its vehicles unique personalities and character, which — love or hate it — the Juke has in spades.

Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s current design head, will be stepping in to take over for the retiring Nakamura as senior VP and Nissan’s styling overlord. Replacing Albaisa as Infiniti’s global design chief will be former BMW design boss Karim Habib.

“We are happy to have Karim join us and head our global Infiniti design teams. During his career as a designer and a leader of global teams he always created modern and inspiring designs,” Albaisa said in an announcement. “Karim is very skilled at capturing the heart and passion of a brand while at the same time giving each design its unique character. I look forward to Karim inspiring our teams to shape the next generation of Infiniti.”

Habib is known for taking a varied approach to car design. At BMW, he designed the straightforward X1 and the sinister CSL concepts. He’s also responsible for the production versions of the X3, X6, 7 Series and E60 5 Series. Prior to that, he developed both the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Smart ForTwo.

Nakamura’s commitment to automotive design will continue after his retirement through Nissan’s internal training program for aspirational stylists. Interested students are selected for multiple programs run by Nakamura and his Tokyo staff. The school has helped Nissan cherry-pick young designers and helped others find work for rival automakers.

“As long as we get the best of them, I’m fine with the others going to other companies,” Nakamura said in a 2014 interview with Automotive News. “In the end, I think the quality of Japanese design is getting better.”

Nakamura, affectionately called “Fingers” by coworkers, officially retires from Nissan on March 31st. Albaisa takes over in April and Habib joins the Infiniti team on July 1st.

[Image: Nissan]

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14 Comments on “The Man Who Designed Nissan’s Quirkiest Cars is Retiring...”

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    If he didn’t design the Pulsar Sportbak, then this article is LIES.

  • avatar

    I didn’t think the Juke was “designed” I have always assumed it just happened… like an accident.

  • avatar

    Had Nakamura-san only come from somewhere in Hokkaido and not Osaka he’d have understood snow and ground clearance and I’d have never wanted anything else after seeing a lifted Cube.

  • avatar

    The Juke is polarizing, but enough people fell in love with it that it sold well for its first couple of years in particular. I like its silly face; its froglike profile is the challenging bit for me.

    I wanted to love the Cube, and I feel that it could have done all right with the Juke’s engine and suspension (a bit firmer and less numb, and a bit more ground clearance)… if it wasn’t crushed by the popularity of the Kia Soul. I *appreciate* the dorkiness of the Cube’s slab sides, asymmetrical rear window (a new car with effort made toward rear visibility?!), and its daft little carpet remnant, but I absolutely see how the Soul’s more crossoverish clothes and hip-yet-straightforward nature have won people over.

    Honestly, I prefer both designs over Nissan’s current different-lengths-of-cheap-sausage approach toward the Sentra and Altima in particular. (They tried to make the Versa sedan fit in, too. I’m not sure they tried very hard, but they tried.)

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I may not be a huge fan of the Juke’s exterior design, but it is distinctive and that seems to sell. My wife has a 2013 as her daily driver, has performed well with no issues. It gets good gas mileage, has great visibility, the turbo engine is zippy enough and it handles pretty well for a crossover. My wife couldn’t be happier with it.

      But it is not a FR-S, so the Jalopnik/TTAC commenters will hate it


    • 0 avatar

      I really wanted to hate the Cube… then I sat in one, stuck my arms out, waved them around, and fell in love. So spacious, and such huge windows! I MUST HAVE ONE.

      But I bought a Scion xB. Nissan CVT vs. bulletproof Camry engine… Made more sense to go with the latter. But if I ever win the lottery, first thing I’m doing is buying a nice low-mileage Cube. The Ferrari 308 will have to wait.

      The Juke was too impractical; otherwise I definitely would’ve considered one. Seemed fun.

    • 0 avatar

      Couldn’t agree more with your sentimemt, although I do absolutely love the Cube. Yes, more than 101 hp and optional AWD would have gone a long way.

      The Juke is like the BMW “coupe” crossover, it’s logic fails me.

      I do like the Soul. Its my choice of FWD H/K cars, and by a wide margin. Offering an AWD version seems like a no-brainer way to print money. Don’t understand their reasoning, unless the profit margin on an AWD Sportage is too great to risk.

      I wanted to like the Veloster, but its just too ugly. I wish it would be redesigned with Hyundai’s more recent cleaner design language (even if their grilles do look a bit too Fordish). I’d love it if it went all RWD and challenged the hot-selling (we wish) Toyobaru. Then Kia could produce a version of the GT-4 Stinger concept vehicle, obviously with a new name now that their RWD sedan has taken it. That was such a sweet concept. Make drop tops to chip away at Miata/Fiata sales.

      Fiata, I want one simply to put that on the license plate, LOL and because its much better looking than the current Miata IMO (who’s front end looks like it was designed by the same guy who somehow found a way to have the new Prius make the older ones look decent comparatively).

  • avatar

    Was he diagnosed with dementia?

  • avatar

    I’ve met Nakamura-san a few times at the major auto shows. He’s always struck me as gracious and humble.

  • avatar

    The kindest thing I can say about Nakamura’s designs is that there are many other ugly cars out there, too.

  • avatar

    “Replacing Albaisa as Infiniti’s global design chief will be former BMW design boss Karim Habib.”

    Break out the no-doze, it’s going to be a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Mr Nakamura, shine on you crazy diamond.

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