Q30 Concept previews future Infiniti compact car

  • 11-Sep-2013 02:29 EDT
Q30 front at IAA.JPG

The Q30 Concept provides Infiniti’s vision for expansion at the lower end of its current product portfolio. (Ryan Gehm)

The curvy Q30 Concept, which debuted Sept. 10 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, serves as the design precursor for Infiniti’s future compact premium entry, production of which is expected to start in Sunderland, U.K., in 2015.

“It’s the very first Infiniti produced in Europe for the global market,” Fintan Knight, Vice President of Europe, Middle East, and Africa, told AEI following the Frankfurt reveal.

“The focus of this car is very much on the new Latin design direction for Infiniti,” he said, noting that Executive Design Director Alfonso Albaisa is a Cuban-American. “This segment increasingly is becoming a little plain, and we think we can inject a new design philosophy that’s not so volume-driven.”

Powertrain details were not provided for the new Q30, but Knight offered: “We will have conventional engines, and we’ve also got quite an expertise at direct-response [electrified] powertrains. We tend to think of those as the modern-day supercharger.”

The Q30 platform is jointly developed with Mercedes-Benz; some of the components are shared with the new CLA Class, Knight said.

Concept’s curves a production challenge

The Q30 Concept incorporates design cues from the new 2014 Q50 and Infiniti concept vehicles such as the Essence, Etherea, and Emerg-e. “So it’s not a sudden break in the design philosophy, but it’s certainly a very big difference when you compare it to the traditional hatchback,” Knight said.

The car’s contours will provide a significant challenge to Nissan manufacturing engineers. “These are the deepest sculptings in the segment—the millimeters between the peak of the edge and the base metal,” he shared. “It requires special pressing technology and techniques, which we need to serialize to make the production cars.

“The reason why pressed stamps have been so limited is that when you press the metal it stretches and it [eventually] breaks. The new process involves using temperature and high-tech metals to get that depth.”

The concept car fuses three body styles: the sportiness of a coupe, roominess of a hatch, and higher stance and command of a crossover.

“The Q30 Concept represents a significant next step for Infiniti,” Johan de Nysschen, President of Infiniti Motor Co., Ltd., said at the reveal. “It’s another example of how we are positioning Infiniti as a younger, trend-setting, highly aspirational brand.”

He added that the compact premium segment “is crucial for our growth in markets like China and Europe and essential to meet the less conventional expectations of Gen X and Gen Y.”

Infiniti designers, led by Albaisa, set out to challenge the design conventions of the premium-car segment. For example, in the interior they executed Infiniti’s “dual wave” effect while pursuing the notion of dissymmetry.

“Our interior opens up the intimate space with a horizontal dissymmetry between the driver and the passenger zone,” Albaisa said at the Frankfurt reveal, also highlighting the use of premium materials. Copper is used as a major accent, with varied high- and low-gloss finishes for componentry.

Sculpted ceramic, integrated in the upper front seatbacks, is used to house speakers for the audio system because of its design appeal and audiophile properties. Leather features bespoke tailoring with Infiniti-signature violet stitching, particularly in the instrument panel and seats.

F1 informs development process

The forthcoming compact premium car will be the first Infiniti model that Sebastian Vettel, the company’s Director of Performance, will influence from its inception. Vettel is a three-time Formula One world champion from Infiniti Red Bull Racing who helped on the tail end of Q50 development.

He helps Infiniti by providing feedback to engineers related mainly to dynamic characteristics such as steering, brake pedal feel, and handling, “which is more or less what I do in my day job,” he said. Another aspect he offers input on is seating position, to enhance comfort and confidence while driving.

Fine-tuning the chassis for a production vehicle is a bit different than doing so for Formula One, Vettel discovered. “Obviously, it takes longer in a road car [to make adjustments]. When we get a change done at the circuit, ideally for the next run, the car is improved [immediately]. For a road car, there’s a lot more development behind it. The car’s not made for one or two drivers; it’s made for a lot of drivers.”

Vettel will test-drive a “very early prototype” of the Q30 at Nissan’s proving ground in Tochigi, Japan, this fall.

The Q30 Concept also draws inspiration from the Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9 Formula One car by incorporating actual carbon fiber in the grille and lower sill on the body sides. The company uses subtle violet highlighting on select surfaces of the carbon-fiber components, and the inner spokes of the concept’s 20-in wheels also feature graduated violet accents.

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