Mid-cycle updates rarely extend to foundations, but the updated Q70 (that’s the old M sedan for those who aren’t fluent in Infiniti-speak) is an exception. Infiniti unveiled two versions of its top-of-the-line sedan at this week’s New York auto show: one with the same dimensions as the 2014 model, another—the Q70L—significantly stretched. READ MORE ››
Archive for Infiniti Q70
Perhaps the best news to come out of Infiniti’s Grand Product Renaming of 2012 was that there will, at some point, be a true sucessor to the Q45. Following the original Q45—and unlike the current M37/Q70, we’d contend—Infiniti will try to position the new flagship sedan as an unorthodox entry to the luxury market. Johan de Nysschen, Infiniti’s new president, told us recently in more detail what to expect.
Above Q70 you need a car that competes with 7-series, S-class, and Audi A8. That’s conventional thinking. There’s enough action going on in that segment. I don’t think the world needs another car like that. But I do think the world needs an upscale, very emotional, high-performance luxury sedan from Infiniti that might be a different concept.
How this translates to a vehicle, though, is a challenge: Every luxury automaker pitches their products as emotional and high-tech. Other Infiniti and Nissan execs say that a variety of ideas are under consideration for the flagship. A swoopy fastback, akin to the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Audi A7, seems to be a good possibility, but there also are some “really wild” shapes getting attention. But wild may not be enough. Infiniti’s Q70 already does look quite different from the German establishment, albeit in a bulbous way, but it still remains nearly anonymous. This difficulty isn’t constrained to Infiniti, of course; even with distinctive, dramatic styling, the Jaguar XJ hasn’t been able to propel that brand into the luxury mainstream. Speaking of propulsion, you may recall Mr. de Nysschen saying last fall that future Infinitis weren’t being planned to incorporate V-8 engines. Unless there’s been a change to powertrain strategy, it looks like the Infiniti flagship will draw, at most, on a turbocharged V-6.
Although this is to be more of a halo product for Infiniti, and as such high volumes aren’t demanded, it will help to get some more mileage out of the architecture. How convenient, then, that de Nysschen is interested in spinning off the flagship sedan’s platform for a coupe. “I think we need some kind of sexy sports car that might share powertrains and platforms with [the range-topping sedan], but an even more emotional iteration.”
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That won’t, however, be the Lotus-based Emerg-E. “The world isn’t ready yet for a $200,000 Infiniti,” de Nysschen offered, confirming what we heard last year from another exec. We won’t consider it a big loss. Even Lotus, which co-engineered the Emerg-E by way of the Evora 414E concept, said a sports car wasn’t the right application of its EV-with-range-extender tech.
In terms of the coupe we are likely to see, questions prevail. The GT segment isn’t quite uncharted territory, but it is a generally quiet part of the car world. Some former customers have moved on to luxury SUVs, some to the aforementioned four-door “coupes,” and others have just moved on. The Jaguar XK, the BMW 6-series, and the Mercedes-Benz SL- and CL-classes are small sellers, and only the SL is visible enough to be considered a proper halo product. (Jaguar’s new F-type, with a lower price tag than the XK’s, is a contender.)
Even still, for de Nysschen, the man who steered Audi on its course to prominence in the U.S., having two proper range toppers is a requirement. “We need these cars as technological and emotional flagships. They can raise the center of gravity for the brand.” That’s a great deal of pressure on two cars—almost as much, say, as a new luxury brand trying to challenge the BMW 5-series back in 1989.
In a several-decade race to the bottom that has seen automakers throw out perfectly comprehensible model names and replace them with dyslexia-inducing jumbles of letters and numbers, Infiniti may have just touched the floor. The company announced tonight that henceforth, each of its cars will be called Q followed by a two-digit number, while the SUVs will be QX backed by a two-digit number. Those numbers correspond just to the vehicle’s position in the Infiniti hierarchy, not to engine displacement (what Infiniti used to do), nor to hypothetical engine displacement (what BMW does now), nor to number of cylinders (what Audi once did).
What this means is that the next-generation G37 sedan—which launches at the Detroit auto show in a few weeks—and G37 coupe will be rechristened as the Q50 and Q60, respectively. The 2013 M37 and M56 sedans will be replaced with the 2014 Q70, a vehicle that’s different only in terms of the badge glued on the back. Infiniti’s SUVs, too, follow suit. The EX37, JX35, FX37/56, and QX56 are being redubbed QX50, QX60, QX70, and QX80.
Heaven only knows what they’ll call the upcoming halo sports car—the QR? the QE2?—nor the upcoming range-topping sedan, which the company announced today, that will sit above the Q70-née-M56.
This is Fatuous at Best, Disastrous At Worst
The renaming is Johan de Nysschen’s first big, visible move since taking the CEO spot at Infiniti in July. Lured from Audi, de Nysschen’s charge is to reposition Infiniti from Acura-level purveyor of leathery Nissans to a global luxury brand that can rake in money from beyond the borders of NAFTA. One needn’t squint to see the parallels between Audi’s model names and what de Nysschen just announced for Infiniti. Was it impossible to resist the temptation to say Infiniti has a car that’s ten times as good as Audi’s Q7?
Even in the many countries where Nissan is launching the Infiniti brand from a completely blank slate, this is a questionable plan for all but the most obsessive-compulsive among us. But with cars, branding, marketing, and mental association already established in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, Infiniti is giving itself—fine, we’ll say it—an infinite uphill battle.
A product lineup with extremely similar names, differentiated only by common, round, evenly spaced numbers is virtually impossible to remember. This problem isn’t unique to Infiniti’s new scheme—how many times have you heard someone say “the Lexus SUV” rather than RX350—but these are especially poorly chosen model names. The industry’s proclivity for groupthink has also given us a situation in which Infiniti will sell a QX60 crossover against Volvo’s XC60, the BMW X6, and the upcoming Audi Q6.
The generally car-aware public, potential customers, current owners (who are de facto brand ambassadors), and sales staff will have a difficult time retaining any lasting impression about Infiniti’s products. Any name recognition and equity that Infiniti has built for the G and FX in particular during the past few years is now vapor. Speaking tonight, de Nysschen said “We will have to explain to customers why they will no longer be able to buy a G or an FX,” even though essentially the same products still exist.
When Lincoln Marked Itself to Death
This way of thinking is pervasive in the industry. Ford’s Lincoln brand—which, unlike Infiniti, hasn’t had a truly exciting product since the LS—has never recovered from Elena Ford’s push to emulate the successful Mark-number line by calling every Lincoln an MK-something. That switchover, too, included an on-the-fly name change for a car, meaning dealers were selling Zephyrs one model year and face-lifted MKZs the next.
In another heritage play, Volkswagen tried rebranding the fifth-gen Golf as the Rabbit in the U.S. The word “Rabbit” never appeared on the cars, with chrome rabbit symbols on the tailgate the only indication that VW, too, thought confusing customers was a route to sales. It wasn’t, and VW returned to calling its hatchback the Golf when the sixth-gen car arrived a few years later. Make no mistake, if this toxically ineffective thinking had spread to Silicon Valley, Apple would be selling IIE-10 and IIE-20 phones and tablets—and probably not in big numbers.
As part of today’s announcement, Infiniti highlighted the nobility of “Q” models in its lineage, right back to the Q45. Whether the Q45 was an exceptional sports sedan in its day or has been elevated to legend in posthumous mythmaking, it doesn’t matter now: The Q45′s reputation is sterling. In that car was proof that Infiniti could compete with BMW’s finest sports sedans. Now, in an era when BMW sells a Z4 sDrive35is, isn’t it appropriate that Infiniti respond with its own abstruse naming scheme?