RICHARD JOHNSON

Isuzu VehiCross is long gone, but 2 designers behind it reunite

Automotive News | August 16, 2013 - 3:59 pm EST

Twenty years after Isuzu’s VehiCross debuted as a concept at the Tokyo motor show, two men who helped design the influential little SUV have been reunited.

Simon Cox, who was named to direct a new Infiniti design studio in London, is known for his work at General Motors, including a pair of Cadillac concepts, the 2005 Cien and the 2009 Converj. But along with his Caddys, it is the VehiCross that gets mentioned when the 53-year-old Englishman’s career highlights are summarized.

The VehiCross concept was a sporty SUV -- in some eyes the first example of an off-roader that abandoned trucklike features. Observers thought it looked futuristic, and indeed it had a bit role in the 2000 film Mission to Mars.

Some even say the name “VehiCross” inspired the industry term “crossover.”

The compact SUV burnished Cox’s reputation in the 1990s, and soon he was designing cars for GM.

Back in the day, he worked for Isuzu design boss Shiro Nakamura, now Nissan’s global styling honcho -- and Cox’s boss once again. Nakamura called his hiring this week “a key appointment for Infiniti as we continue to define Infiniti’s design evolution.”

Of course, the VehiCross also was a big win for Nakamura, who was Carlos Ghosn’s surprise choice in 1999 to be the head of Nissan/Infiniti design. No doubt the VehiCross helped.

And what became of the VehiCross? Despite praise for the 1993 concept, it took a few years for a production version to reach showrooms. It came to the United States in 1999, looking very much like the concept. Isuzu sold 1,271 that year, but annual sales declined every year thereafter until it was gone for good by 2003.

Gone but not forgotten (well, at least not by everyone) and still a career booster.

Richard Johnson is managing editor of Automotive News.Richard Johnson is managing editor of Automotive News.

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