Who are they? Which cars? What did they do?
Key cars: Nissan Cube and 350Z, Infiniti FX45 and Essence
Nakamura is the man who put Japanese car design on the map after decades of copycat designs. Headhunted from under-the-radar Isuzu in 1999, he oversaw an onslaught of radical concepts and high-selling production cars as part of Carlos Ghosn’s Nissan Revival Plan.
Included in the list are, from Nissan, the Cube, the 350Z, the Murano, the Juke, and, in Europe, various Micras and the Qashqai, as well as the FX45 and the Essence concept for Infiniti. Key to his success is not only his ability and work ethic — he allegedly often works twelve hours per day from a chauffeur-driven GT-R — but also his skill and willingness to communicate his designs’ relevance internally and externally and his global experience (he studied at Art Center in the United States and has worked in Europe and Japan).
Bonus fun fact: Nakamura was a jazz bass player before embarking on his career in the car industry.
Key cars: 1984 Honda Civic and 1998 Accord
Ebisawa doesn’t play the flamboyant designer role — he’s more white lab coat, shirt, and tie (he’s also the managing director of R&D). But, since 2009, he’s had overall responsibility for the look of nearly four million Hondas every year. After joining the company back in 1977, he worked through Honda’s early ’80s “man maximum, machine minimum” design phase. Post-2000, the firm added a more emotional dimension, as witnessed in the superbly packaged Fit minicar, the radical European Civic hatchback, the aerodynamic FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle, and the wedgy CR-Z. In all, he’s behind more independent-thinking, functional, and dynamic design than he is sometimes given credit for.
Key cars: Mazda RX-8 and 2007 Mazda 2
Maeda has been a Mazda man since 1982 — other than a brief stint with Ford in 1999 — which is appropriate given that his surname is just one letter away from “Mazda.” With the production RX-8, he brought suicide doors (safely) back into fashion, and he became overall design boss in 2009.