Infiniti took quite the nosedive in 2020, with sales plunging to 5,783 from 2019’s nearly 11,000. Yikes!
Obviously, the pandemic took its toll. So, too, did reports that parent Nissan Motor plans to turn Infiniti into a sort of “Nissan-plus” brand. But rear not, Nissan Motor’s COO and chief performance officer, Ashwani Gupta, told Automotive News that Infiniti “will be great again.” The plan is to turn Infiniti into something less than it once was and hoped to be, thereby making Infiniti more than it ever was.
Confused by the convoluted logic that suggests less is more. I am. For me, Nissan once held out hope of becoming the Japanese BMW. The first sedan, launched more than three decades ago, was the dynamic, rear-drive Q45 sedan. Today, the best we can hope for is Nissan-plus? Really?
Come with be back to the time of the Q45 launch. This sedan, slotted in concept between BMW’s 5-series and 7-series, was a much more interesting car than its immediate rival, the then-newly-launched Lexus LS400. The Q45 suggested that Infiniti could become something quite special.
That promise was further fuelled by the G-series sedans and coupes of the 2000s and 2010. Sporty, engaging, tastefully-designed, rear-drive rides – the Gs were glorious, legitimate and less fussy alternatives to comparable BMWs of the day. Not perfect rivals, mind you, but intriguing and appealing nonetheless.
Well, the deep troubles at Nissan and Infiniti have now been laid bare, in the wake of the upheaval surrounding the departure of Carlos Ghosn. We now see that Ghosn somehow managed the miraculous feat of keeping Nissan highly profitable and relatively stable for two decades. Ghosn, though force of will, cunning, boundless energy, ruthlessness, and his sharp intelligence, managed to tame much of the apparent infighting that from the outside looks to be rooted in the very bowels of Nissan. Alas, he quite obviously could not eliminate it entirely.
The new crew running Nissan seems a bit confused, bewildered, strained for answers and constrained by Infiniti and Nissan’s falling sales and difficult financial situation. Their vision for Infiniti is not only Nissan-plus, but also includes scrapping a recent plan to turn Infiniti into a glamorous electrified performance brand, along the lines of what General Motors is doing with Cadillac. And a planned deep alliance with Mercedes-Benz is apparently dead, or on life support with a DNR tag.
Instead, “We will bring back Infiniti as Nissan-plus, in terms of product and technology,” Gupta told Automotive News. This new approach is simple enough in concept, excruciatingly difficult to execute.
In a nutshell, a host of new Infinitis to debut by 2023 will ride atop Nissan platforms and there is an electrification to all this that is yet to be fully flushed out. What Nissan hopes to achieve is not unprecedented. Volkswagen does this with Audi – Audis being, basically, rebadged and beautified VWs, with a few important tweaks borrowed from Porsche and Lamborghini, also VW brands.
Point is, such a strategy can work. It can be disastrous. For decades, Ford Motor tried this with Lincoln and the now-defunct Mercury brand. GM the same with Cadillac, with equally catastrophic results. If Nissan is, indeed, able to turn Nissans into legitimate Infinitis, the result will be a study in genius execution and good fortune.
We do know the Nissan plan for Infiniti should allow for an energized cadence of new Infiniti model not otherwise possible. Nissan Motor itself is restructuring, cost cutting and trying to stabilize the mess left behind when former CEO Carlos Ghosn was charged and fired for various alleged financial improprieties – all of which the now-in-exile-in-Lebanon Ghosn denies.
Where is Infiniti today, right now? I have just enjoyed a preview drive in the newest Infiniti, the QX55 crossover coupe. It’s a fine automobile, one developed long before Nissan’s bosses unveiled the new Nissan-plus plan. The glaring shortfall is the lack of some sort electrified QX55. No hybrid, no plug of any sort, at least for the present.
In the meantime, well, going forward Nissan can at least stabilize Infiniti by improving quality and cutting prices. Infiniti ranks 12th out of 32 brands in Consumer Reports latest brand study. Mazda is No. 1. Seems to me, Infiniti should be at least as good as Mazda if it hopes to compete as a premium brand.
I also feel for Infiniti’s dealers. They have spent millions on their own distinct showrooms and customer service initiatives, only to be almost entirely abandoned by the parent company and sole supplier of new cars. For now, these dealers have one sedan, one coupe and four crossovers to offer – even as rival luxury brand continue to hit the marketplace with an avalanche of new models, most of which are brilliantly electrified.
Infiniti’s comeback will take years, if it ever happens. As one who was a huge fan of the original Q45 and all it represented, this is all very sad.