Nissan’s Albaisa finds peace at sea

Alfonso Albaisa, vice president, Nissan Design Europe

Alfonso Albaisa
Born in Miami to Cuban immigrant parents, Nissan Europeís design chief Alfonso Albaisa decided against following the family tradition of training as an architect. Instead he studied sculpture and figure drawing and then industrial design at the University of Florida.

While at University of Florida his mother encouraged him to complete his studies in New York City. ďNot a thing many mothers do,Ē he says. He went to New York and earned his bachelorís degree in industrial design from the Pratt Institute in 1988.

That same year he joined Nissan Design America, in San Diego, California, and worked on exterior and interior design for various Nissan programs including the Z, plus two generations of the Quest, Altima and Maxima.

In 1997 he was promoted to design manager, became associate design director in 2000, interim design director responsible for all design activities in 2003, and product chief designer based in Atsugi, Japan, in 2005. Last year, he moved to his present position as vice president, Nissan Design Europe, based in London.Name: Alfonso Albaisa.

Title: Vice president, Nissan Design Europe.

Age: 43.

Languages: English, Spanish.

Nationality: US. (But I am Cuban-American. It is part of the unique chaos of US culture that you donít lose your sense of where your family came from.)

Family: Three daughters: Isabella, 10, Sophia, 7, and Louisa 6.

Countries lived in: USA, Japan, UK.

Education and qualifications: Bachelorís degree in industrial design from Pratt Institute, New York City.

What was your first car?

My fatherís 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. It was silver with a black interior. The first car I bought was a Renault 5.

Whatís in your garage?

Nissan Murano.

Describe your perfect day.

My title separates me from actual design, but I collaborate with others and when something wonderful hits, I discover something about the other person and about myself.

Whatís your greatest personal achievement?

On a personal level itís my children. On a professional level, itís seeing something finished, like the Nissan building in Detroit. Revisiting it recalls all the discussions and shared feelings.

What do you do to relax?

Sailing solo far out into the ocean where there is no sound except the wind and the sea, especially at night. You are aware of how fragile you are. There is nothing more humbling. I have been in some frightening storms, but still found a weird sense of peace.

Whatís the first thing you do when you get home?

I stay at the office very late, and home is for catching up with the news on TV and for sleep.

What kind of books do you read?

I am guilty of an addiction to non-linear information on the Internet. I Google a question and it leads me to new information, like a news item about a sailor in the South Pacific who discovered an island being born, so I had to research all island discovery. Sadly this has replaced books for me.

If you could meet any figure from history, who would it be and why?

The human experience is all about invention, but today there is nothing fundamentally new, so it would be someone from the 1890-1910 era who experienced the shock of change, like my grandmother who died aged 96 but fondly remembered seeing her first car, her first aircraft.

What is your fondest memory?

Itís to do with work but isnít really work. Itís seeing in a completed collaboration the way we captured the intentions of the designers. I see in this the faces of the people. I enjoy the fulfilment of others, and I find this amazing.

Whatís your greatest extravagance?

My 16-meter sailboat, Sayonara. I donít regard her as an extravagance or a luxury. It is my dream to sail solo in her from Los Angeles to Hawaii.

How would you describe your character?

I am a bit of a dreamer, even a bit childish. Nissan taught me how to work on cars, buildings and boats, but now I am dreaming of a house and how to design the quality of light inside.

If you could change anything about yourself what would it be?

Constant dreaming and the pursuit of creativity is part good, part bad. Some aspects of life I donít know about, and I want to learn.

When are you not at your best?

At the beginning of anything. I take some time to warm up.

What was the most fun you had last year that had nothing to do with the car business?

Sailing in the company of blue whales. It was a phenomenal experience. Recently I had scary fun when a gray whale came up under the boat and started pushing it around with surprising aggression.

What are your most treasured possessions?

My experiences are my most treasured possession.

Where would you really like to live?

Tokyo. Itís a fast, crazy place but I am able to relax there.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I am curious about what true confidence feels like. I came from an immigrant family. When I was young I was always impressed by the wonderful confidence of the stereotypical fathers of my ďAmerican-AmericanĒ friends.

You can reach Ian Morton at

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