Karim Habib: to Infiniti (and beyond)
Having built a reputation as one of the world’s leading car designers, the appointment of Karim Habib as INFINITI’s new head of design has created plenty of excitement around the future of the Japanese carmaker.
At this month’s the Dubai International Motor Show, the first steps of the new era of INFINITI are taken and Esquire spoke to the man about his new vision:
What most appealed to you about joining Infiniti?
INFINITI Motor Company is only 28-years-old, so the opportunity to take on a role like this, at a relatively young brand, is very rare and very exciting. The appeal is the challenge of a rebirth of a brand that has incredible potential. I’m taking on a holistic role of Head of Design that will concentrate on shaping the brand, as well as the product.
Can you explain a little about your design philosophy?
I could go on about this for hours, but if I were to break it down into a few elements, they would be: authenticity; simplicity; and originality. It is important to respect for engineering and respect for the people that are reason why we all do this. I value experience-based rather than form-based.
How cooperative are the design teams across INFINITI?
Since I’ve joined the company, I’ve found the team to be extremely corporative. It is a super talented team with so much passion and desire to succeed.
We have a fantastic state-of-the-art studio in Atsugi-Shi, Japan, but also Design Studios in London, San Diego and Beijing, so there are many of us dotted all over the world.
It means the collaboration involves people in different countries, from different nationalities and design inspirations. Everyone is encouraged to collaborate and share ideas and thoughts. It’s very enriching.
What made you want to go into car design?
I have loved cars since I was a young boy. I’m sure that’s the same for most car designers! I loved the models and especially sketching them.
To this day the work that the modellers do still fascinates me. The automobile is one of the most important objects in our lives, shaping our visual environment as well as our quality of life. It’s far more than just a mode of transport for so many people.
The car represents a very personal place for many, whether that’s the open road or stuck in traffic. You want to walk out to your car every day and expect the experience to be an enriching one, in every sense of the word.
Do you prefer working on the interior or exterior?
I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to work on both interiors and exteriors, but I don’t have a preferred choice between the two. As a designer they both have challenges and potential in equal measure.
How do they differ?
With an interior layout, you have to think about the technologies and how they are presented to the driver and passenger alike, as well as the materials, the engineering, etc.
When designing a concept for the future, it is great to abandon all conformities and create something truly unique. Even if it doesn’t come to fruition in a production model, the freedom to explore is exhilarating.
Congratulations on the new QX80 launch. Can you tell us a little about it?
Thank you. The credit goes to the team as they did all the work before I arrived at INFINITI.
The new QX80 evolves our presence in the luxury SUV segment. From the exterior, you can see bold proportions and a commanding exterior design. Inside you will find a luxurious cabin, with a hand-crafted feel, exquisite attention to detail and advanced technologies – all combining to promote a sense of inclusive, modern luxury and sets new standards for upscale sophistication.
The new QX80 provides all this for seven passengers, bringing a confident, modern representation of luxury to the market. Combining supreme space and utility with advanced technologies and high sophistication, the changes to the car’s design – inside and out – more closely align the new model with the most recent new INFINITI cars through the application of signature design cues.
Who is the QX80 targeted at?
Our flagship SUV creates a driver-centric, passenger-minded space for inclusive, modern luxury travel. It’s targeted at those discerning customers who want luxury, while being able to share the experience of the QX80 with family and friends due to its size and ability to seat seven passengers.
What statement do you want the QX80 to make to the market?
A distinctive, powerful full-sized SUV to travel everywhere in luxury.
Do you agree with the phrase: “Perfect design is when you sit down and everything is where it should be.”?
Not really. The statement is too relative to who is judging. I’d instead say that perfect design makes your life better.
How does the feedback and performance of the Infiniti Racing teams impact what you do?
It shapes the brand and therefore the image the products we design need to emanate.
If you were to create a limited-edition vehicle for the Middle East, what elements would you add to it?
The Middle East market is as, if not more, discerning than any other major market worldwide. The best quality and the most refined execution is expected. Our customers expect the best in the Middle East and beyond.
Do you draw in your spare time?
Yes, I love to draw and sketch but I get to do a little bit of that at work, so when my time is truly spare, I spend that on my family doing the things we love such as discovering Tokyo and its surroundings.
Do you keep your design notebooks?
Yes. Previously. They are priceless to me. Full of thoughts, inspirations, my work and exploration.
What car do you drive?
The INFINITI Q50. Perfect for my commute from Tokyo to Atsugi where our design studios are located.
At the moment? So, what is your dream car?
Our upcoming Infiniti products. In my opinion, we have some fantastic models coming in the future.
WATCH: Karim Habib walks us through the new Infiniti QX80