Aesthetically, it’s 60% Star Wars, 40% soapbox derby—a vision of the future as seen by someone from the past.
If you were at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California, the de facto Super Bowl of classic-car shows, then you wouldn’t have missed this classic beauty when the luxury automaker Infiniti, a unit of Nissan Motor Co., pulled the cover off a futuristic concept car.
Yes, we are talking about the Infiniti Prototype 10 Speedster.
The INFINITI Prototype 10 echoes the layout and design of some of the most evocative car designs of all time, where power was celebrated through high-powered single-seat competition cars. Our new concept speaks of an electrified future, something which is reflected in its form and details. It is appropriate that we found inspiration in an optimistic bygone era in which cars were characterized by the simple love of driving.”– KARIM HABIB, EXECUTIVE DESIGN DIRECTOR, INFINITI
IF YOU WANT to understand the future, look to the past. Or, this weekend, get a test drive to satisfy your hunger. Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California is like the foie gras-filled gathering that attracts many of the loveliest classic cars on the planet. And because those rolling histories usually come toting their well-heeled owners, luxury automakers use the event as an occasion to connect with potential customers and show off something shiny.
More often than not, that means concept cars with the kind of curves that tantalize the primal brain.
Vehicles that won’t get anywhere near a production line but offer a look at how their designers and engineers are thinking about what comes next.
Today, Infiniti takes its turn with the reveal of the Prototype 10, a four-wheeled rendition of a land-lobbing manta ray. The car sits halfway between two concepts Infiniti has shown in the past year.
- The Prototype 9, a fully electric retro-style racer with exterior wheels with room for one that made its debut at last year’s Concours.
- And the Q Inspiration, the svelte sedan that wowed crowds at January’s Detroit Auto Show.
Like many of its competitors, Infiniti has pledged to offer a plug-in hybrid or fully electric version of every new model starting in 2021. (The Q Inspiration came with the clever variable compression ratio engine that Nissan, Infiniti’s parent company, developed to increase the lifespan of the internal combustion engine.)
The automaker hasn’t revealed any engineering details, but the smart money says that.
Like the Prototype 9, the 10 is running the powertrain from the latest Nissan Leaf, which includes a 40-kWh battery and a 147-horsepower motor.
No words on specs either, but no matter—the 0 to 60 mph time of a car that never gets made isn’t exactly important.
Last year, Infiniti had the sleeper hit of the Concours in its Prototype 9, a one-seat concept marrying the aesthetics of a 1940s race car with an electric powertrain and 21st-century materials. (Wow... that’s a lot to take)
The new iteration takes that formula and dials up the “future” elements. The vehicle is still long and narrow, like a vintage race car, and there is still only one seat. But the wheels are enclosed by a ribbon of seemingly uninterrupted metal. The hood goes for days, with giant concavities on the sides that funnel air into two intakes. The cockpit rises to a fin behind the driver’s head and then tapers down to the rear like that of a World War II fighter plane. The cabin is open, of course—another nod to vintage speed.
The driver sits, essentially, on the floor, behind a tiny, flat-bottomed steering wheel. In place of a passenger seat, Infiniti has carved a massive air duct. It can’t DJ or pull up iPhone directions, but the cavity cools the motor and batteries.
It’s the first major machine drafted under the watch of design chief Karim Habib, whom Infiniti hired away from Bayerische Motoren Werke AG last year. As such, the concept may provide a telling glimpse at how Habib will tinker with the look of other vehicles in the line-up.
Make no mistake, this whip will never see an assembly line. But it does help prime potential customers for an electric revolution at Infiniti, an imperative for every automaker at the moment. Vanguard executives figured out years ago that the best way for electric vehicles to shed their crunchy, green reputation, was to outrun it. The pitch: “Sure, they’re sustainable—never mind that, let’s talk about the speed.”