Infiniti is crushing it with yet another vintage racing concept. But why?
Infiniti is back again with another retro-futuristic electric concept car, following last year’s debut of the open-wheel Prototype 9. The new Prototype 10, which Infiniti just revealed at the Lodge at Pebble Beach during Monterey Car Week, is an open-cockpit speedster that looks like it was transported from the past to the future and back again.
As gorgeous as this concept is, there’s no mistaking that it’s purely a design exercise with no earthly possibility of production. It’s the second year in a row that Infiniti is teasing us with a one-off, vintage-inspired race-car concept with an all-electric drivetrain. But we have to wonder what kind of game the Japanese automaker is playing. When everyone else is looking toward the future for what electric cars will look and feel like, why is Infiniti (of all brands) taking the extra step of reaching into the past?
The answer, it seems, is that Infiniti wants the thrill and excitement of early race cars and speedsters to inform the way we think about developing future electric vehicles. “For us, Prototype 9 evoked the thrill and drama of early open-wheeled racing, and Prototype 10 represents another passion project for our designers,” Infiniti executive design director Karim Habib said in a statement. “This idea of ‘looking back to go forward,’ and combining the inspiration of an earlier aesthetic with future technology, lets us show how excited we are about the era of electrification.”
With so many driving enthusiasts and automotive bigwigs flocking to Pebble Beach, the low-slung, single-seat Prototype 10 was meant to get their attention. Infiniti is promising that every new model from 2021 on will either be all-electric or e-Power hybrid, a system where a conventional combustion engine acts as generator while electric motors are solely responsible for driving the wheels. And with such a big commitment to electrification, these vintage-inspired prototypes are a reminder that driving—whether with electric or combustion power—is meant to be fun. It should make you feel the thrill of going fast.
Apparently Infiniti put it together fast, too. The global team of designers in Japan, the UK, and San Diego put the whole project together in four months, scrambling feverishly to build something both beautiful and true to EV technology. Instead of a passenger seat, the Prototype 10 has huge air inlets that direct cooling to the rear, where the batteries and motor live.
“We were drawn to the idea of outlaw racers adapting their own cars for grassroots racing,” Habib said. “Cabriolets become roadsters and speedsters with the removal of the roof, or by fitting a smaller, swept-back windshield. Many owners even covered the passenger bay to create a monoposto competition car.”
Infiniti design director Alfonso Albaisa, speaking to a small contingent of journalists, said that he gets frustrated when people look at him cockeyed and wonder how a brand with only 30 years under its belt is going so gung-ho on heritage. Over at the Infiniti display stand near Pebble Beach, the company is busy gathering several of its historical models, as well as a cadre of Nissan and Datsun heritage cars, hoping to remind people who love driving that there’s still a lot of fun to be had.