Before Jerry Hirshberg, there was no Nissan Design International. There was just a dirt lot in the rolling hills of La Jolla, Calif., about 10 miles up the coast from San Diego.
But when Nissan decided it wanted to create an American design presence in 1980, it looked no further than Hirshberg, then in charge of Buick and Pontiac design at General Motors.
Under Hirshberg, Nissan created a distinctive look for its U.S. lineup with such vehicles as the first Pathfinder and Xterra SUVs. But the work was a constant struggle. Hirshberg wrestled with the conservative instincts of Japanese executives and the limited budget imposed by Japan's post-bubble economy.
“We've done well when there has been wide-open risk-taking — like with the Z and Xterra, when no one is doing cars like that, and the sales and marketing guys say there is no place for it,” he says.