GENEVA — Yes, Geneva is a Swiss show, traditionally well attended by the Italian design houses and German tuners. But at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, a Japanese designer is the talk of the Palexpo — thanks in no small part to his new Infiniti Essence.
Nissan's upscale brand would have us believe this sensational coupe concept is "the essence of Infiniti." In fact, it is the essence of Shiro Nakamura, Nissan's senior vice president of design, not to mention a glimpse into the future design direction of Infiniti.
Nakamura's team has crafted a sleek two-seater with a panoramic glass roof that is all but devoid of ornamentation. Japanese cultural cues abound inside and out.
The designers drew inspiration from, among other things, Japanese calligraphy, traditional lacquerware, even the kanzashi, a hairpin used by women when wearing a kimono. The aim, according to Nakamura, was "to merge all existing Infiniti design cues with fresh design language."
The sinuous, sculpted shape is wrapped around a traditional front-engine/rear-drive sports car layout. But the Essence is hardly traditional in its powertrain, safety technology and even its post-modern minimalist cabin.
Nakamura's team created a stunning asymmetrical cockpit with staggered seats, separated by a curving console that sweeps into the dash. The driver's "cocoon" is finished in black, while the passenger is swathed in red. The cabin is trimmed in leather, Alcantara and hand-painted wood and features chronometer-type dials, an aluminum gearshift knob, a red engine-start button and a flat-bottomed steering wheel flanked by paddle shifters.
Nissan chose a powerful gas-electric tandem, configured as a parallel hybrid so the two power sources can work independently or together. The 3.7-liter direct-injection V6 is fitted with twin turbochargers and makes 434 horsepower, while the electric motor adds another 158 hp, providing total output of nearly 600 hp. Energy is stored in a lithium-ion battery pack.
Advanced safety technologies include distance control assist, lane departure prevention, side collision prevention and back-up collision prevention.
The pièce de résistance is a collaboration with Louis Vuitton — a bespoke three-piece luggage set that's fitted to the trunk of the Essence. Naturally, each piece carries the initials of the owner.
Guess what "SN" stands for.