Diane Allen, who led Nissan's California design team on the iconic 350Z sports coupe and Titan full-size pickup, will retire Dec. 20 after more than three decades with the automaker.
Allen, 59, serves as senior design manager at Nissan's design center in San Diego. She has been named to Automotive News' list of 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry each of the four times it has been published.
During her career at Nissan, the Detroit native guided the design of several models, including the 370Z, Rogue crossover and Infiniti QX56 SUV.
“I was trying to create designs that would last through time and that they weren’t just decorative; that they actually had a long lifecycle.” Allen told Automotive News on Thursday. “When I look back at some of the products that I worked on, it’s not so out of date. If anything, there’s some classic tones to it.”
Allen joined Nissan in 1984 straight out of design college. Her first big project was designing the two-door 350Z, which debuted in 2002 and helped rejuvenate interest in the brand among driving enthusiasts.
The 350Z was “my baby,” Allen said.
“The Alliance started, (Carlos) Ghosn was on board” she said. “There was this really kind of excitement.”
The purpose of the 350Z was to create a Z that was comparable to what the 240Z did.
“It was beautiful in design, it was much more reliable than the British sports cars and it was more economical,” she said.
Allen was also instrumental in designing the Titan, Nissan's unsuccessful attempt at making a dent in the full-size pickup market. The Titan broke new ground, Allen said.
“The styling wasn’t of the ranch-hand, or the cowboy,” she said. “It was more of a modern aesthetic.”
Allen, who had never driven a full-sized truck, had to immerse herself in pickup culture. To do so, she and four young Nissan designers from Japan embarked on a road trip across the South.
“These Japanese guys were used to eating rice bowls, etc. for lunch. Here we were stopping at truck stops and getting big hamburgers and piles of fries, biscuits and gravy,” Allen recalled in a 2008 interview. “By the end of the trip, they were wearing Stetson hats and cowboy boots. They embraced the South and the big trucks.”
As the Nissan chapter closes, Allen was coy about what’s next.
“That’s yet to be determined,” she said with a laugh. “Right now, I’m just kind of capping this career off.”