NEW YORK -- Alfonso Albaisa admits his new job at Nissan Motor Co. is daunting.
Not the part about taking over global design oversight last month, which includes design for all things Nissan, such as dealerships, office buildings and public displays. After nearly 30 years with Nissan, Albaisa, 52, says he is ready for all that.
What's daunting is the part about filling the shoes of his mentor, Shiro Nakamura, the automaker's design chief since 1999.
Nakamura delivered nearly two decades of Nissan's history, including the first Murano, the 370Z, GT-R, Juke, Infiniti Q50 and FX35 crossover, now called the QX70.
"I've got to follow Shiro," Albaisa says with an eyes-wide look of emphasis. "How does anybody do that?"
Albaisa is the automaker's first non-Japanese design director. The historic moment leads him to ponder the difference between his design instincts and all of those who came before him at the company.
"There is clearly Japanese thought and sensitivities in the look and shape of our cars," he says. "But what does it mean today to be a Japanese car company? Especially for Nissan, which has so many Westerners involved in directing the company?"
After heading Infiniti design, Albaisa will now manage a design force of 700 around the world, working on vehicles that range from small Japan-only kei cars, to American-sized sedans and trucks and even large commercial vehicles.
The first vehicle that will bear Albaisa's stamp as Nissan design chief will take the stage in January at the Detroit auto show, he says, declining to say what it will be.