NEW YORK – Infiniti doesn’t often directly reference one of its production vehicles when it names an auto-show concept. But it did with the QX80 Monograph, and there’s a good reason for that, says the brand’s outgoing top designer.

Infiniti more often attaches singular monikers like Inspiration and Essence to its concept cars. And even if they are slightly veiled hints at production models – the Inspiration foreshadowed the latest Q design language, for example – there’s typically no blatantly obvious link between the concepts and the production models they eventually will become.

But the Monograph show car has the unmistakable design cues of an evolved QX80, so there wouldn’t have been much of a point to denying it. And Infiniti didn’t want to anyway, according to designer Alfonso Albaisa, who says part of the QX80 Monograph’s mission is to get buyers of its flagship SUV acclimated to the future.

“The request (from management) was, ‛Make it an Infiniti, but also pay respect to our flagship car,’” he tells WardsAuto in an interview on the Infiniti stand at the New York International Auto Show.

The QX80 isn’t Infiniti’s best-selling vehicle. Far from it, as volume totaled 16,772 units last year, accounting for just 12% of the brand’s sales. But the model is seen as signature Infiniti, Albaisa says. It’s the most expensive vehicle in the lineup, and its buyers are a loyal bunch.

“(The QX80) historically is the least-incentivized car we have.” he says. “And no matter how old it is, it keeps selling and is still an aspirational car for most people.

“We wanted to look at those (QX80) parts – the straight line, the full body – and how do we make it in line with the new Infiniti language.”

The concept is a modern yet subtle update of the current QX80 and carries over such design cues as its double-arch grille that defines the brand and its somewhat polarizing long nose and slab sides. But Albaisa says to look for the next-gen QX80 to be less conservative than the concept.

“I think you’ll see a big change with the real one,” he says. “This (concept) is more of the beginning of the flirtation, to start people realizing Infiniti is not just bite-sized cars. We actually have a big boy, a big monster.

“It’s the most expensive car we have, so it lives in its own world for us,” Albaisa adds. “We need to start this dialogue (with customers), start reminding people this car has been around for a bit.”

The concept was limited to an exterior styling exercise – it has no interior – by both time constraints and strategy.

“(We see this) as the first tease. Just to say to everyone, ‛OK, we have a big car that we are going to have to redo,’” the designer says.

Overall, Albaisa, who is moving from Infiniti to head parent Nissan design, says to expect Infiniti’s current styling language to continue a bit longer, though he says the brand always is testing the waters.

“Every DDM (design decision meeting), we have one fullsize model whose intention is to disrespect the current,” he says “And for the most part, the evolution of the current (design language) is still quite strong, quite powerful.

“But the thing we won’t change is the sense of artistry, that our body panels (have) something in there that you can feel the fingerprint of the artist,” Albaisa says. “So that part we will keep. How to find the new version of that? That part is our constant challenge.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com @DavidZoia