Farewell Infiniti, we hardly knew you.
When the announcement came, it was met with resignation. For those attuned to the mood music surrounding the embattled Japanese marque of late, and following a decade of under-achievement it has been difficult to feign surprise that Nissan’s upmarket nameplate is shortly to depart Western European markets, seemingly never to return. For everyone else however, it’s been more a case of ‘Infiniti who’?
It’s difficult to escape the nagging suspicion that Nissan never quite had the firmness of will to fully commit to the Infiniti project, first introduced into the United States in 1989 as the carmaker’s response to the threat imposed by Toyota’s stellar Lexus LS400. The ’89 Infiniti Q45 saloon, while a fine motorcar in its own right, was simply a derivation of the Japanese market Nissan HG50-series President model, employing a shorter wheelbase and a restyled nose and tail.
Over the intervening years further models were added, but for too long these were largely redeployed Japanese (up)market Nissans. Perennial second-fiddle players to Lexus in the US (and never quite a stand-alone brand in Japan) Infiniti gained a solid slice of the North American luxury car market for a time at least, but lacked their home-grown rival’s stronger positioning and sales success.
But it wasn’t until 2008 that the marque arrived on these shores, Infiniti’s European introduction proving to be a masterclass in how not to introduce a luxury car brand. While Lexus had arrived twenty years earlier with a top of the line model of established excellence, Infiniti by contrast stumbled onto the market, into the teeth of Global recession, with a range of cars ill-suited to local conditions.
With an uninspired range of under-defined vehicles, which neither looked especially appetizing to the average upwardly mobile customer (or potential Lexus buyer for that matter), nor in receipt of the kind of critical reception necessary to provide much of a breakthrough, the brand failed to make any noticeable headway. Worse still, with almost no mainstream marketing support (F1 sponsorship notwithstanding) the buying public never quite got past the ‘what is that?’ phase.
The 2015 introduction of the C-segment Q30 and its higher-riding QX30 sibling was intended to lend the programme a fresh impetus. Co-developed with Mercedes-Benz, sharing internal body structure and other hardware with Rastatt’s GLA model, Nissan had high expectations for the UK-built line, with projected annual sales of over 30,000 cars. That it fell so woefully short of expectations cannot simply be ascribed to its appearance (in fact it looked okay) its performance (broadly acceptable) or its overall appeal (described by Autocar as ‘credible’) – the root of its 2018 sales collapse must lie elsewhere.
Last year proved to be Infiniti’s worst, with the bulk of its European market range axed owing to incompatibilities with WLTP emission regulations. Also, as the European market became increasingly SUV-centric, the carmaker had little other than large petrol-powered and US-orientated models to offer, unsuited to European sensibilities, budgets or indeed their medieval city centres.
As recently as last December, Nissan was pledging Infiniti’s continued EU presence, with a hybrid version of the Q50 saloon and a new mid-sized QX50 SUV to come on stream. In addition, was the announcement that the marque would embark on a holding pattern until a new generation of EV and hybrid offerings could be readied. The carmaker also appointed former BMW design director, Karim Habib, tasked with replacing a corporate design theme which never quite lived up to the potential suggested by a succession of creditable concepts.
“You’ll start to see a better picture from next year”, an Infiniti spokesperson told Autocar in December. But in today’s industry, the rapid turn of events can make fools of us all. And with CEO, Carlos Ghosn now facing trial, the marque’s cheerleader in-chief has gone and with him it would appear, Infiniti’s reason to exist, in the European market at least.
Earlier this month, the decision to cease production of the Q30 in Sunderland and remove the Infiniti brand from Western European markets was announced along a new management regime and a fresh approach. The former is expected to occur by the summer, while the latter is set to take place over the coming year, meaning the marque is essentially as good as gone.
But while Infiniti’s presence has always felt rather half-hearted, it’s especially unfortunate for employees at Nissan’s already embattled Sunderland assembly plant, not to mention the remaining support and dealership staff across the region. However, it does appear to be an inevitable consequence of a brand strategy which has been as ill-considered as it was inconsistent.
But surely Infiniti’s failure only further exposes Renault-Nissan’s business model at a time when not only is the group coming under scrutiny for all the wrong reasons, but like the bulk of its mass-market rivals is facing an over saturated market, the existential threats from technology giants and legislators, without the putative buffer of a viable upmarket nameplate?
The lessons of history teach us that those carmakers who remain trapped in a low transaction price cycle pay a heavy price in the long run. Where brand Nissan/Renault ends up in ten year’s time could be determined by decisions made today. One can’t help wondering therefore if this particular decision will be seen in the fullness of time as being pivotal?
10 thoughts on “From Infiniti to the Great Beyond”
Might I point out that Europe´s medieval city centre´s have very little to do with Infiniti´s lack of sales success since these ancient areas now compromise under 1% of the extent of urbanised areas. So, Infiniti can´t even complain about narrow streets to justify their demise. It mosly has to to do with a heady combination of poor ranges strucure, lack of EU-apppropriate engines, a lack of experienced dealers and probably the styling which in recent years has veered too much towards “space alien”. Will the loss of Infiniti matter to Nissan-Renault? I doubt it. Having an “upmarket” brand has been received wisdom for years, distracting from from the fact that getting quality right for mainstream brands matters very much. If Nissan-Renault had spent the money invested in Infiniti on better perceived quality and reliability they´d be a lot further down the road than they are now.
Infiniti’s marketing didn’t help either.
In Belgium, the yearly automobile show is crucial for sales. Infiniti didn’t hire floorspace on the salon, but came up with a remarkable solution. A shuttle took you from the show’s parking to the dealership in Brussels. As an “incentive” to take the shuttle, topless models joined the canditate-customer for the ride.
Today, this would cause an understandable outcry. But even in 2010, it raised quite some eyebrows.
Infiniti presented itself as a BMW alternative for people who liked steer-by-wire, weird styling and naked escorts.
I think the use of topless models was unlikely to increase the likelihood of sales. In fact, it probably deterred customers no matter how much they enjoyed gazing at the view en route to the dealer.
That’s astonishingly cheap and tacky! It’s one thing to have attractive and appropriately dressed girls (and boys, these days) acting as hosts, but I thought that the idea of topless models in a public environment like this was long consigned to history. It sounds so 1970’s. I’m also amazed the motor show organisers allowed them to do this.
I’m not surprised by this news of Infiniti’s withdrawal. Even as a bit of a car geek, I can’t say I could name or describe a single model in the current range. I’ve noticed them when driving in the US, but can’t remember when I last saw one in the UK. Sorry for those whose jobs are affected, but I hope they might be redeployed in the Nissan dealer network.
Instead of topless models they should have offered Vlaamse Frites.
The situation Infiniti got into up to this point is indicated by the level of reaction to this news. The one good thing about this, no, two good things about this are a) enthusiasts of dead or departed marques can now have a fresher corpse than Lancia to weep over and b) this marque is worth several articles in Classic & Sportscar in 2039. They will find a bloke (currently 48 who will be 68 in 2039) who has owned his Q30 since new and will swear it is an excellent vehicle and would that Infiniti had had more luck in appraising others of this fact.
Will anybody shed tears over Infiniti? Unlike Lancia, there is no history, romance or even much affection for the brand, whose vehicles appear to be uniformly efficient but anodyne.
But, of course, you’re right, Richard. Twenty years hence, there will be someone who mourns Infiniti’s passing, the sort of person who today insists that the Marina was a good car, unfairly maligned.
After the downbeat news on Infiniti, I thought I’d cheer myself up, so I Googled “topless escorts”.
This one’s my favourite:
Looking back at the 30 years of Infiniti here in North America, I’d say they had about two hits. The original Q45 was a lovely car and the G35 and subsequent G37 were really nice. The rest? Meh. The Q50 is a pale imitation/follow-on of the G37 and the latest QX50 is just another transverse-engined crossover.
Daimler really screwed Nissan/Infiniti on the QX30. The monumentally awful GLA/CLA250 Mk1 served as its basis. Nissan agreed to build an engine plant in Decherd, Tennessee to make up to 200,000 M270 series 4 cylinder engines annually for the C Class and derivatives assembled in Alabama, and to take some for themselves. That’s what we get/got in North America on QX30, no other engine option.
After completely redoing the electrical system of the GLA/CLA to Japanese standards, the Q30/QX30 with wacko styling was launched to a dull sales thud. Seeing as the dud Mercedes chassis was underneath, there wasn’t much to compensate for the styling either.
But two years ago, Mercedes decided to turf the M270 series engines, and bring out the M260 series, the inline 6 version of which (M256) powers new upscale Mercs. Here was Nissan/Infiniti stuck with an engine factory tailor-made to make the old Mercedes four (all of four years old, that is). The new engine imported from Germany replaced the Tennesee engine in the C Class and derivatives in Alabama assembly. Thus stranded by Daimler with a giant investment and few sales, it was pretty obvious Nissan would ditch the the Q30/QX30 in North America when the new A Class Mercedes lineup was announced. Might as well use that engine factory for something useful. No doubt there is a distinct feeling of caveat emptor at Nissan when it comes to considering joint ventures with Daimler in future, although Renault sails on oblivious.
The Japanese tend to design vehicle guts for the long term, not on a flibberty-gibbet Daimler time-scale. Those philosophies are entire cultures apart. Even the electrical redesign of the Mercedes for the QX30 emphasizes the different philosophies. Personally, I wouldn’t touch a Mercedes unless given one – my drives of the CLA250 showed me what plastic, tin and interior noise really mean when it’s profit above all else, relying on the badge and not true substance for sales.
That is not to excuse Nissan for trying to sell Infiniti vehicles pretty much unsuited to Europe in Europe, but Ghosn no doubt had his reasons. With him gone, we can probably expect Nissan to further descend into the bottom of the pile vehicles they turn out, sold on price alone and with few redeeming features. I cannot say they are unreliable – few Japanese cars are – but nothing else about them perks up the ears.
I know this is subjective, but my god I cannot think of a ra nge of such consistently HIDEOUS cars. Every single one of them is offensively ugly, even in an age of outrageously ugly vehicles. Total lack of marketing, absolutel no USP, poor engine choices, and confusing nameplates practically guaranteed failure for Infiniti.