TOKYO -- In his 40 years at Nissan Motor Co., designer Tsunehiro Kunimoto had a knack for refining the Japanese brand's evolving image through eye-catching, sporty designs.
Now, at a time when most of his contemporaries would be retiring to the links, Kunimoto, 64, is gearing up for possibly his biggest challenge: revitalizing Mitsubishi Motors Corp. through a styling overhaul.
Kunimoto's arrival as Mitsubishi's global design chief in April 2014 was an almost unheard-of career shift in Japan, where workers typically stay loyal to the same company for life.
But when it came time for Kunimoto to consider retirement, Mitsubishi's bosses saw an opportunity to poach a skilled veteran. By then, Kunimoto had played a lead role in rechristening the Nissan and Infiniti brands in the 2000s under the revival plan of Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.
Among his works: The muscular Infiniti FX crossover and G sedan, and the stocky, well-planted Nissan Z Concept in 2001 that heralded the rebirth of Nissan's iconic sporty car.
When approached by Mitsubishi, Kunimoto jumped at the challenge of repeating that formula.
"Their expectations of me were the same," Kunimoto told Automotive News at Mitsubishi's global headquarters here. "Mitsubishi had a difficult term. Now they are seeking a new way."
With a year under his belt, Kunimoto has outlined two priorities for mending Mitsubishi:
1. Develop a more consistent, recognizable look across the lineup.
2. Create a style that taps Mitsu-bishi's roots in rugged SUVs.
"Branding is the first priority for Mitsubishi design," he said. "We want a long-term vision."