Jon Ikeda is unique among brand executives in that he started as a designer, but he no longer designs. He’s in charge of Acura in America. That makes his vision of Acura during its transition to electric propulsion all the more interesting. Recently we chatted about brand’s latest concept and how it portrays the future of the brand.
The interview is edited for length and clarity.
The Detroit Bureau: Looking at the Acura Precision EV Concept, it’s hard not to see the MDX replacement. This is really the future of your design direction.
Jon Ikeda: Yes. This is obviously a concept and a styling study. With styling studies, as in the past, it’s kind of the one thing that we can tell journalists and everybody there are elements of these vehicles, we’re letting you know how we see the future by styling perspective.
TDB: Squinting at it, you can imagine a production version. What really guided your thinking in its form? Where you are going with this?
JI: Well, I think there are certain things that electric cars definitely bring to the table that are a little different. So you’re seeing a lot more cars without grilles. And what do we do with grilles? I think there’s a lot of different iterations that all the other OEMs are looking at to represent that. But if you go to the front of this one, it’s one of my favorite parts of it. And there’s no real mesh, per se, that there’s nice little shapes in there to kind of give you a hint.
TDB: It recalls the Acura grille.
JI: Yeah, and with an SUV, we have space this big (Ikeda said pointing to the concept car’s front fascia). If you have a sports car, it’s going to be all smashed, so you might not need a grille. But if you have that space, how do you it? For me, as a designer, I’m looking at the face like you got eyes, you got a nose, you got a mouth. And when you just wipe the nose off a face that might feel a little strange. So I think the seamless grille design that the team did here is a really interesting iteration.
TDB: What would you what if I say what are the essential elements, the styling details that make this Acura?
JI: Well, for us, it’s always about the balance of sharp edges, and full surfaces. Because we are a performance brand, we always discuss the stance of the car. Obviously, this is a show car. But the key thing here is let’s make sure the stance is right and that the shapes play up the fenders. It should look long and sleek.
TDB: The Precision’s shape changes as you walk around it, which is really very interesting. There’s not really one form. It’s not blocky, even though at first impression, it might seem that way.
JI: Well, there’s a lot of beautiful lines on this car, right? Look at the boldness on the fenders; you can see the sharp lines on top; it gives it that nice length. Obviously, this is a you know, premium performance SUV, so you want some length. Also, the fact the cabin being low helped us get length, so you get that length of design. And it’s not just a straight line; there’s a lot at play here.
TDB: Aerodynamics clearly play a part in the styling. It’s very functional, the way that seam comes up over, and then back to the A-pillar. That’s obviously aerodynamically driven.
JI: Show cars are always fun for designers because it challenges our engineers. This is how we see the future, there are things that we want to do. There are no door handles; what does that mean? Is our glass completely flush? What does that mean in the context of manufacturing and things? So we’re always using tools like this, to push our engineers to make beautiful cars in the future.
TDB: There is an interesting design detail at the corners of the car and on the wheel spokes. Can you talk a little bit about that?
JI: Obviously, it’s an EV. So this is what the team calls glitch. So you’re seeing a lot of electric-themed things happening throughout the styling. Looking at a screen, every once in a while, you’ll see a little video glitch. That is innately something that’s digital. So what does a glitch look like in 3D? And so, they were inspired by that, and they were trying to emulate how a glitch looks. And you can see that the edges aren’t a poorly defined shape, because it’s glitching. That’s their representation of something fun to think about that might be electric.
TDB: There’s a minimization of cut lines and seams. And then even when you do cut lines and seams, it plays into the direction of the design, so it doesn’t have that pieced together appearance.
JI: Yeah, you could help accentuate things by using the actual cut line. It’s a technique. Some people do it better than others, but obviously, it was a show car, so we could pick it the way we want to do it. Cutlines are a part of the design.
TDB: Then there’s the Easter egg detailing here, sort of the electric circuits as patterns on their taillamps.
JI: So you’re seeing big statements and shape, but obviously in the detail areas, they went a little crazy, you know, but it’s fun. They have fun making this thing.
TDB: Developing the car with General Motors, not starting with your own chassis, your own platform. Was that a bit tricky?
JI: I think it was a great learning for both companies. I mean, we do things differently. There are all kinds of interesting stories with the suppliers, where we put our attention and where they put their attention. But I think it’s a great partnership. It’s been good.
TDB: You’ve brought back the Integra, when are you bringing back the Legend?
JI: Well, the ZDX is back, so we’re working on all kinds of ideas.
TDB: Why did you bring back the name ZDX? It was a fine name, but it wasn’t a huge sales success.
JI: Well, first of all, it has extremely sports-focused SUV or CUV styling. And that was the intent of the original ZDX, when everything was tall. Maybe it was a little bit of its time. But what does a coupe SUV look like? And we played with that sporty aspect of it. So it makes sense to tie this model to the ZDX. The other is Z is for zero emission. It is it is what it is and you can’t deny it. So that’s what we looked at.
TDB: The best part of the original GTX was that it was somewhat impractical first, as it was all about form. It was like a treat for yourself, something a little more frivolous. It has some utility, but it kind of got lost. It was so ahead of its time. Now, it’s common.
JI: Again, the concept was like a coupe SUV. So you could do the coupe and have somebody try to get in between the B-pillar and seat, all of a sudden, we said, well, let’s just put the jump door in here. We went through the trouble hiding the door handles everything. But everybody started talking about how small the door is. And it’s like, well, it’s a coupe. Maybe I didn’t do a good job of trying to push that thing. But we did a lot of fun things with that car. It’ll get its do I hope in time.
TDB: It’s great to see Acura come back to life again.
JI: We came here in 2015 with three prototype NSXs, and committed ourselves to making that supercar because we are a performance brand. That’s what we’re known for. And you know, it’s been seven years. But we have a lot more to talk about. We got racecars winning trophies, we have beautiful show cars and great production vehicles. So it’s been quite a journey. But yeah, we’re having fun and we’re going continue.