Historically, my experience with auto shows involves racing from one manufacturer’s stand to another to find a seat. The reveals have gotten much tamer since the last time a Jeep crashed through the glass at the North American International Auto Show, but to get a first look at vehicles that manufacturers hope to energize the brand is still a bit of a thrill.
This year, however, I spent more time with the people behind each reveal, rather than jostling with my colleagues for a vantage point. I interviewed three Latino designers, one in Detroit and two in Chicago, whose vision, skill, and expertise, will be tested by millions of car buyers in the coming months.
Decisive Latino would like to introduce:
Alfonso Albaisa, vice president, Nissan Design America, who revealed the all-new Nissan Pathfinder in Detroit.
With 22 years of experience at Nissan, Albaisa has had a hand in the development of products like the Juke, Altima, Maxima, and Rogue. In Detroit, the new Pathfinder didn’t receive any drama (it was billed a concept), which belies the revolutionary redesign of the all-new model set to go on sale later this year.
Gone is its truck-like look as well as construction. The Pathfinder is now a unibody constructed SUV but Albaisa and the Nissan PR folks declined to declare it a crossover, but rather, a “next generation SUV.”
According to Albaisa, the switch to a unibody, and the accompanying rounded exterior, came from customer input. “They want the utility but not the bouncy ride and poor fuel efficiency of a body on frame SUV,” he said. A 25-percent improved fuel economy is expected.
New innovations include a second row seat that articulates as well as slides forward for improved access to the third row.
The Cuban American says he oversees a very diverse staff, including other Latinos like Giovanni Aroba who worked on the latest Maxima design. “We have a display at the design center with postage stamp-sized photos of each member and their country of origin. The feeling of diversity is really about the stories that we share,” he says.
Johanna Medina, color and trim designer for the GMC Acadia, introduced in Chicago.
At the other end of the spectrum, Medina helped unveil the first vehicle in which she had a more integral role as an interior designer, the GMC Acadia. A game changer when it was first introduced five years ago, the Acadia now shares more of a family resemblance to its smaller sibling, the Terrain, and in so doing, its full-size SUV status is unmistakable—I always felt the Acadia’s exterior belied its size.
For Medina, a native of the Dominican Republic, the challenge was to infuse the new Acadia with as much value, i.e. quality products and materials, as possible, while still working with designers, engineers, and budgets, to make it feasible.
On the inside, real aluminum and chrome accents enhance the interior as well as softer touch plastics. “With the Acadia’s new design, we intend to move GMC toward the premium side,” admits Medina. “We want people to say, ‘I want a GMC.’”
The Acadia will also have segment leading cargo volume, a standard rear view camera, and available blind side and front crossing alert systems.
Enrique Giner, design manager for Kia, which showed its Track’ster concept and new Optima Limited in Chicago.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the Kia Optima is an intimate experience, which is exactly what designer Giner intended. Described as a “driver oriented” design, the Optima’s asymmetrical dash, juts out slightly toward the left, improving ergonomics.
“The driver can more easily interact with the controls and the information we offer, which enhances the driving experience while bringing added sportiness to the brand,” says Giner. “Unlike more traditional, symmetrically designed dashes, this asymmetrical approach is much more difficult to design.”
Based on the fully loaded turbocharged Optima SX, the Optima SX Limited revealed in Chicago, will elevate the basic interior to include, high-grade black or white Nappa leather seating, door panels, center console armrest and center fascia trim. Wood accents can be found on the steering wheel, interior door trim and shift knob. It will be offered exclusively in Ebony Black, Snow White Pearl, and Titanium Metallic exterior colors.
A native of Venezuela, Giner has been with Kia for the last six and a half years, overseeing interior design for every production vehicle at Kia as well as show cars.