Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, from 2010 to the present day and ponder its future.

2016 Infiniti Q30 (c)

Infiniti had spent its second decade rather more productively than its first and introduced models like the G35 compact premium saloon, coupé and convertible that were broadly class-competitive against their German rivals. However, sales growth still proved elusive. In 2010, Infiniti US sales were 103,411(1) vehicles, representing a 0.89% market share. In the same year, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were closely matched with US sales of 220,113 and 224,944 vehicles respectively, giving them market shares of 1.90% and 1.94%.

Infiniti’s Japanese nemesis, Lexus, edged ahead of the German duo with 229,329 sales, a market share of 1.98%. Even Acura outperformed Infiniti, with US sales of 133,596 vehicles, a market share of 1.15%. European sales for Infiniti in 2010 were an inconsequential 2,393 vehicles, representing a tiny 0.02% market share.

The first new Infiniti model in this decade was the 2010 M37 and M56, replacing the M35 and M45. Optional four-wheel-drive was denoted by an x suffix. As the model designations implied, both the V6 and V8 engines were enlarged. A V6 Diesel engined version, the M30d, was added to the range, for European markets only. The M series grew only marginally in size compared to its predecessor but was immediately recognisable with its serpentine coke bottle waistline. A mild hybrid version, the M35h, was introduced in 2011, with a rear-mounted electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack behind the rear seats, reducing boot space considerably.

2011 Infiniti M37 (c)

The new M series models failed to appeal as strongly as their predecessors and, after an initial lift, annual sales settled at around 5k level as US buyers moved in increasing numbers away from saloon cars to SUVs and crossovers. Total US sales over a decade on the market were just 63,697. The model was discontinued in 2019 without a replacement.

Infiniti realised that it was losing sales to rivals because its FX series crossovers, with their coupé-like styling, were considerably less spacious than rival offerings. This was addressed in 2012 with the launch of the JX35, a mid-sized seven-seat crossover based on the same platform as the Nissan Pathfinder. It was available in front or four-wheel-drive. The styling was rather generic, apart from a distinctive reverse-Hofmeister kink in the D-pillar that would become an Infiniti signature on future models.

2012 Infiniti JX35 (c)

The JX series’ greater practicality broadened its appeal and sales were much stronger than those of the FX. A total of 322,214 found buyers between 2012 and 2020 inclusive, an annual average of almost 36k. Some of those sales appear to have been at the expense of the FX, however: the annual sales of which almost halved following the launch of the JX.

In 2013 Infiniti decided to rationalise its alphabet soup of model name designations. In future, all cars would be given a Q prefix, followed by a two-digit number that no longer referenced engine size, but merely indicated its place in the model hierarchy. All crossovers and SUVs would be given a QX prefix and similar two-digit suffix. Existing models were rebranded as follows:

Old name: New name:
G25 / G35 / G37 Q50 saloon(2)
Q60 coupé and convertible
M37 / M56 Q70
EX35 QX50
JX35 QX60
FX35 / FX50 QX70
QX56 QX80

Whether or not this new naming convention improved Infiniti’s visibility and model recognition is a moot point.

The first new model to feature this revised naming convention was the 2015 Q50, replacing Infiniti’s most successful model, the G series saloon. This was certainly one car Infiniti could not afford to get wrong as the G series accounted for around 60% of total US sales.

The new model was rather more sinuous and muscular than its predecessor, with sculpted haunches over the rear wheels. It also featured the distinctive C-pillar treatment that debuted on the JX35. The 3.7 litre V6 and 3.5 litre V6 hybrid versions continued, but there was a new 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 and inline-four engines in 2.0 litre petrol and 2.2 litre diesel guises. The rear or four-wheel-drive options also continued.

A new Q60 coupé and convertible followed in 2017, reprising similar styling to the Q50. The engine choice was restricted to the 3.7 litre V6 in either 330 bhp (246 kW) or 348 bhp (260 kW) power outputs. The Q50 and Q60 initially maintained similar levels of US sales to their G series predecessors, around 50k annually, but sales began to fall away from 2018 onwards.

2015 Infiniti Q50 (c)

In 2016, Infiniti introduced the Q30 and QX30 models, based on the Mercedes A-Class and GLA platforms. The QX30 was marketed as a sub-compact crossover, but it was little more than a Q30 with a raised ride height and lower body cladding. These models were built at Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, England, until 2019 when they were discontinued without a replacement.

The QX70 was discontinued without a replacement in June 2017 because of dwindling sales. A second generation QX50 compact crossover was launched in 2018, based on the underpinnings of the Mercedes-Benz GLB SUV. A coupé version, dubbed QX55, was launched in November 2020.

While making little progress in the US, Infiniti was struggling to an even greater degree in Europe. Its best year was 2016, where it sold a total of 13,775 vehicles, representing a market share of just 0.09%. In March 2019, Infiniti announced its intention to withdraw from European markets in 2020. The withdrawal has now taken place and Infiniti’s European websites offer only servicing and repairs for existing models.

That takes us up to the present day, so it is time to look at Infiniti’s 2020 US sales figures and assess the progress of the company over its third decade on the market:

Infiniti US Sales in 2020
Model: Type: Sales: Percentage:
Q70 Mid-size saloon 139 0.2%
Q60 Compact coupé and convertible 2,792 3.5%
Q50 Compact saloon 16,533 20.8%
QX80 Full-size SUV 16,125 20.3%
QX60 7-seat crossover 22,880 28.8%
QX50 Compact crossover 20,885 26.2%
QX30 Sub-compact crossover 148 0.2%
Total: 79,502 100.0%

Comparing 2020 with 2010, Infiniti’s US sales had fallen from 103,411 to 79,502 and the company’s market share had almost halved, from 0.89% to 0.55%. In terms of both measures, Infiniti was now back where it was at the start of the millennium. Its most successful year was 2017, with sales of 153,415 and a market share of 0.89%, the latter matching the previous high point in 2010. Since then, the fall has been precipitous.

Perhaps the Chinese market, which Infiniti had entered in 2014, might provide some more encouraging news? It would appear not to be the case:

Infiniti China Sales in 2020
Model: Type: Sales: Percentage:
Q50L Compact saloon (LWB) 8,979 34.9%
QX50 Compact crossover 16,716 65.1%
Total: 25,695 100.0%

Infiniti sells only two models in China, the Q50L, a long-wheelbase version of the Q50 compact saloon, and the QX50 compact crossover. Both are locally manufactured under a Dongfeng-Infiniti joint venture. Infiniti’s 2020 market share in China was just 0.13%. The company does have a small presence in some other markets, for example, in the Middle East, but sales are inconsequential.

Infiniti really does now appear to be a company hanging on by its fingertips. It is difficult to identify a single disastrous decision that has led to its current predicament, although there certainly have been a number of questionable or obviously bad ones.

To identify just three, the first-generation Q45 might have been a worthy attempt to offer something different in the traditional luxury car market, but it simply failed to appeal to potential buyers in sufficient numbers. Trying to pass off the Nissan Primera as a premium compact competitor to the 3-Series was pretty foolish, while the second-generation Q50, the so-called ‘Japanese Lincoln’, was inept and hopelessly outclassed.

In conclusion, however, I think it is fundamentally the case that the majority (if not all?) of Infiniti models over the past three decades have simply failed to impress or excite potential buyers sufficiently, thereby denying the company a critical breakthrough, or even any strongly positive sales momentum on which it might have built. As things stand, it is extraordinarily difficult to see a viable future for Infiniti, at least as a stand-alone marque.

(1) All sales data from

(2) The outgoing G Series saloon was renamed Q40 in its final year of production.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

28 thoughts on “Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)”

  1. Daniel, thanks for this comprehensive review of the Infiniti story.
    I had the chance to briefly test drive the Diesel version of the 2010 M37. Regarding desing issues, and apart from a bland appearance, nothing to criticize about materials or gap management.
    But in terms of dynamic behaviour, it was far from European market: at reasonable European speeds, every roundabout switched on the VSC.

  2. Thanks for this illuminating series. I have never driven or even been inside an Infiniti, so am not well placed to comment really. However, it always seemed to me that there was a lack of a clear vision for the brand, and/ or a lack of conviction from those involved in realising that vision. The fact that there was a change of heart in terms of targeting BMW and not Mercedes at a certain point speaks volumes, as does the rebadging of the Primera to fill a gap in the range.

    The later European models, those based on the Mercedes A-Class, were oddly conceived and seemed to miss the target on many levels. I recall that one of Car’s resident writers (Mark Walton, I think) had one as a long termer and was so disparaging that Infiniti took it back off him a few months earlier than scheduled in a move to prevent him doing further damage to the car’s reputation. I can’t recall that ever having happened before. Given that the underlying materials and components were good enough for Mercedes (I know, what does that mean theses days?) it seems strange that, by all accounts, they got the dynamics so wrong.

    Looking to the future, it’s hard to see how Nissan can right this particular ship apart from starting to deliver products which consistently deliver to a clear brief. Maybe this will be another brand which will pins its hopes of revival on the clean sheet presented by the EV wave which is going to carry all before it?

  3. An illuminating series indeed. Some Infiniti models are/were sold here in the Netherlands but they are vanishingly rare. I vaguely recall reading a local test of the M37 type, which suggested it was a good car but extremely expensive and so difficult to recommend. Styling-wise it seemed very fussy, though what isn’t nowadays?

    It’s interesting to note that Lexus was able to get away with re-badged Toyotas for their smaller models, whereas Infiniti couldn’t repeat the trick with Nissan models (despite the Primera being a generally very good car). Perhaps the original LS400 was such a strong statement that it created an instantaneous aura for Lexus and gave them a latitude not available to Infiniti?

    1. I remember when Infiniti was introduced in the Netherlands. One of the specific issues in the Dutch market was that there engine lineup didn’t match with what people actually wanted (or the taxation of cars actually dictated) them to buy. There’ an FX45 somewhere close to where I live and a Q30 in the village my mum lives, but otherwise I can’t remember seeing one about.

  4. Daniel, thank you for this 3-part series. It is fascinating to read about Infiniti’s problems from a European lens.
    Kindly allow me to add a couple of comments:
    1. The JX35 is actually a reskinned Nissan Pathfinder with a transverse V6 and a nasty and failure-prone CVT, very different from the longitudinal engined FX. While it offered 7 seats, it not very different from the equivalent Nissan, making it pointless.
    2. The renaming of everything to Q and QX was the first big move when Johan de Nysshen took over as CEO in 2012. The second big move was to relocate Infiniti’s HQ to Hong Kong as an effort to get closer to China. Both moves were also wasted efforts. When Johan moved to Cadillac a couple of years later, he also renamed the cars and moved HQ to New York. One wonders what either company could have achieved if the money was spent on better product instead of these superficial moves.

  5. Daniel, much to think about here.

    The Q/QX30 is surely set for a high ranking in the roster of abject failures. It shouldn’t have been so. There was tremendous pride a the time that Sunderland was going to be the sole manufacturing base – it looked as if Infiniti were going to take Europe seriously at last. The choice of location probably had the unfortunate side-effect that public perception was that the new crossover was a jumped-up Caschcow derivative, which it wasn’t.

    The reality was a most odd concoction: Mercedes-Benz A Class platform and engines, with a Renault diesel option, and no major Nissan componentry.

    The Q/QX30 really shouldn’t have stumbled as badly as it did. It didn’t look awful – certainly not self-effacing, but crossover/suv buyers are supposed to like ‘presence’. The closely related Merc was a strong seller, and the Infiniti was not stupidly overpriced, nor under-promoted.

    The CAR experience was with a low-end, low-powered diesel. I’d like to think the bigger engined versions made a better case for themselves.

    SV – I was so taken with Walton’s diatribe in Otherwise Boring CAR that I scanned it for posterity at the time – here it is:

    1. That’s the one! It’s self-reassuring to know that the little grey cells can still recall oddly useless pieces of information (even if I seem to go blank more regularly when trying to recall the name of the person who has called me!).

      It was obviously memorable that Walton trashed the Q30 so roundly, as Car used to, often to its own cost in terms of lost advertising revenue.

    2. Good to see a commercial publication like Car Magazine calling out such a bad car. That 1.5 litre diesel engine is ok in a van, but patently not in a car pretending to be a ‘premium’ offering.

  6. I know Nissan were in trouble before Renault came along, but I don’t think it was an ideal marriage. Carlos Ghosn was better at making money than making cars. Renault design good cars but tend to build them with cheap components, and now Nissan are no better. Building an Infiniti in Sunderland is just silly.

  7. Daniel, thanks for this series on Nissan’s attempts to create a viable upmarket brand. I wonder if anyone at the Renault-Nissan alliance will read this and change the group’s premium strategy.

    What are the lessons to learn here? Obviously, one first has to get the product right, and that can’t be done on the cheap. But a great product also needs great marketing and great dealerships. And you have to keep the product pipeline flowing to keep your current customers interested and to attract new ones. Lexus did all of these things and Infiniti didn’t. And Alfa Romeo and Maserati aren’t doing them now.

  8. Good afternoon all and thank you for your comments. There is indeed much to consider regarding Infiniti’s plight. As Chris says, I think Lexus got off to a much more convincing start because the original LS400 was such a tour de force. Certainly, the lower-order Lexus models were nothing special, but they basked in the reflected glory.

    Lexus wasn’t beyond making the odd stumble either: the 2011 CT200 was a hard-riding and sluggish dud. I had an NX hybrid as a loan car while my Boxster was being serviced a couple of years ago and I hated it! It rode with all the finesse of a skateboard and the engine was completely gutless when pushed.

    Anyway, back to Infiniti. I wrote the piece because, like many people, I suspect, I had little or no idea about the evolution of the marque over the past three decades and couldn’t identify one model from another. Coming from someone with an obvious interest in matters automotive, this admission doesn’t augur well for Infiniti’s brand-awareness amongst the wider public. At some point soon, Nissan will need to make a decision about its problem child.

    Thanks, HW, for the correction regarding the JX. Text amended accordingly.

  9. I tend to believe that the 2017-2019 Q50 and Q70 are currently the biggest bargains around. While there is a lot of (arguably justified) criticism about the Q30/QX30 and the JX35, the saloons are different enough from the rest of the Nissan lineup and offer reliability and some refinement.

    Throw in parts availability for the MB diesel engine (or the frugalness of the hybrid V6) and the fact that saloons aren’t the current trend, and it gets even more tempting.

  10. I still remember when Infiniti opened their swanky showroom here in Hamburg: There was talk of out-Lexussing Lexus with unparalleled service (the claims made at the time were quite reminiscent of Maybach’s concierge services et al another decade earlier), in addition to showrooms that were boutiques, rather than mere dealerships, yada yada yada…

    Two friends of mine (we were all in our early-to-mid-20s, back then) went to the showroom some weeks after its opening and returned giggling about the saleman’s antics – either due to having been conditioned or out of a misguided sense of duty to come up with a ‘creative’ sales pitch, he’d constantly refer to Infiniti offering ‘pure emotion’. The styling: ‘pure emotion’. The engine: ‘pure emotion’. The paint choices: ‘pure emotion’.

    Before they left, the also got an emotional parting gift: a small piece of Swarovski crystal glass, with the Infiniti logo engraved. It must be worth a fortune today.

    1. That’s really funny, Christopher. Assuming the salesman wasn’t just desperate and going ‘off-piste’ in his attempt to secure a sale, he must have been hugely embarassed by that ‘script’. Your friends did well if they managed to keep a straight face during that bout of verbal incontinence.

      Knowing nothing much about it, I have the (probably mistaken) impression that Swarovski crystal is a bit tacky and vulgar. Please feel free to disabuse me of this notion!

      P.S. Perhaps your friends misheard and the paint was ‘pure emulsion’? (You need to be a certain age to understand this. 😁)

  11. The crescent C-pillar was at least an effort in the direction of giving the brand a consistent identity which it lacked for the first twenty-five years. However, for whatever reason, they don’t seem capable of sustaining this stab at building a design heritage.

    It surely does look like a battery electric vehicle, however the caption for the bottom photo taken from Infiniti’s own website strives to correct that mis-impression: “Hidden side exhausts streamline the vehicle’s profile.”

  12. At the risk of propagating a conspiracy theory, I wonder if Mercedes-Benz’s increasingly close relationship with Renault didn’t make things more difficult in devising a credible strategy for Infiniti?

    1. I think that relationship could save Infiniti, or at least stave off its demise. Where else would they get a C-segment (or larger) sized EV within the next four years*? An electrified QX50/55 would be the most expedient product that Infiniti needs now. The relationship between the alliance and Daimler is fraying** but GLBs and QX50/55s supplied to non-Chinese markets are still made in a joint Daimler-Nissan factory in Mexico.

      *Neither Mercedes nor Renault would touch the Leaf platform with a ten meter insulated pole, as it has no active thermal battery management. Such things are not long for this world.

      ** X-class pickup, gone. SMART will abandon its kinship with the Twingo, instead sharing a platform with Geely.

  13. By coincidence, The Truth About Cars had an Infiniti retrospective a mere few days ago, and it much more mirrored my remembrance of them than this three part series. In saying that I don’t mean these DTW articles aren’t fine in their usual sense, but let’s face it, so few Infinitis got sold in Europe it’s a bit like writing a history of a ghost from reading a few books and magazine articles and sleuthing on the internet. Hard to assemble a coherent picture of an incoherent “brand” that was a complete sales dud in your own backyard.

    Both site’s article(s) neglect to mention much about the shorty wheelbase EX35 crossover based on the G saloon that only began to sell well when it morphed into the EX37 about 2014 with a wheelbase stretch that allowed more than small children in the back seat. No sooner was it selling reasonably, its name was changed to QX50 by de Nysschen, a rather useless executive who was Audi North America Sales Chief for years before joining Infiniti for 18 months, then for some unknown reason was hired by Cadillac where he ruined things there to0. That type of EX37/QX50 I test drove and almost bought one, quite nice indeed and made in Japan. The QX50 then suddenly became a totally different transverse-engine crossover about 2018, but fitted with a 2.0 litre fully variable compression ratio 2.0 litre turbo (8 to 1 for power, up to 14 to 1 for economy), a genuine world’s first that nobody took the slightest notice of! It has been made in the other half of a Mexican factory shared-ownership with Mercedes . Now they only make a few QX50 because it’s not popular and lease most of their assembly space to Mercedes. How that all works out in practice, goodness only knows.

    Nissan/Infiniti took the bait cast by Mercedes in 2013 when it agreed to make the then current Mercedes M270/274 2.0l turbo in its Tennessee factory for installation in the Alabama-built C- Class, and for that horrible Q30/QX30 and a two-litre version of the Q50/G37. The volume was supposed to be up to 200,000 units a year. That Mercedes M270/274, German-built, was in the 2015 CLA I test drove, and its exhaust sounded like a 1960 Mini 848cc, the car itself a plastic interior, tire-whirring failure as bad as the QX30 in my view, an awful thing not far off a joke. No sooner had Infiniti spent goodness knows how many millions tooling up to make those engines than Mercedes changed the design completely to the M260/264 (yes, the lower number is the newer design), leaving Nissan/Infiniti holding the bag on a factory with few orders. That Mercedes change would be for the 2017 model year, a year after BMW ditched its own N20 engine with cam chain issues that had only been around for five years and replaced it with the B48. Mercedes seemed as eager to ditch its first modern 2.0l turbo as BMW was with the equivalent N20.

    The QX 30 had non-standard Nissan electrickery, being a mix of the Mercedes type because of the engine computer, (which caused delay in its initial production trying to interface with German stuff) and what was left of the Nissan body computer. A complete hybrid incorporating the worst of both companies, and killed as a model the moment Mercedes abruptly no longer wanted its old M270/274 engine from Nissan/Infiniti for Alabama-built Mercs. I think Ghosn was not impressed by Mercedes, because they “got” him good and proper. The Japanese do not change engines on a whim preferring to amortise the tooling expense over a long run, but the Germans can afford it by charging more for their tinny cheaper models than anyone else could for similar goods and get away with it. Buyer snobbery for a badge and all that.

    In the end it matters not much, because Infiniti never was a clearly defined “brand” except for the G35 and G37 models, along with the FX crossovers. They all had the FM platform which was near enough an Infiniti exclusive unlike most everything else Infiniti churned out on Nissan bones. Old G37 sedans and coupes are still everywhere around these parts today. Built like tanks, they simply do not seem to go wrong. Saw one such coupe all polished up just this past Saturday morning early in a parking lot. Looked brand new but had to be almost a decade old. The 3.7l V6 engine is a grumbly low speed torque monster, that at the flip of a hat will rev out to 7600 rpm and make those FMs fly. Been in a few of those cars including a sibling’s and they are not bad at all, if a bit hard-riding. The engine is throttle-less, being entirely variable valve lift and timing like BMW Valvetronic, but much better mechanically realized. Today, as someone else mentioned, Infiniti’s big seller is the QX60, a Nissan Pathfinder crossover in disguise made in the US, but this year finally with a 9 speed auto from ZF instead of the craptastic Jatco CVT it had from its birth as the JX35.

    It’s also worthwhile remembering that the only two Lexus models to consisently sell in decent numbers over the years are the ES sedan, a glorified Camry, and the RX crossover. The LS long ago turned into a sales dud. The horrible NX, sold here with a weak 2.0l turbo, is bought by real estate people who can’t stretch to the RX and is no more than a RAV4 with an ugly schnoz, better paint and nice interior. Some say it has more body spot welds, but that seems a bit unlikely, more like a rumour spread to justify its steep price. The UX I have never seen on the street, but then the CH-R on which it’s based has been a sales failure too. So the Lexus part of the Toyota empire isn’t exactly a roaring success these days either. The difference is Toyota can afford Lexus, but Nissan is the best part of broke, and still squabbling with Renault over the Alliance.

    1. Phew! Honourable mention deserved for the variable compression engine, which in sectioned model form was an object of fascination for me at motor show – remember these – stands during the last decade.
      Was it really an Infiniti development, or an idea from somewhere deep in Nissan R&D, re-branded to give the struggling premium nameplate some engineering credibility?

      Saab also had a bite at that particular cherry late on in the GM era. Again I’m unconvinced it was all their own work. The Swedish company managed 67 years of existence without an engine entirely of their own design, instead buying and borrowing from DKW, Müller-Andernach / Heinkel, Ford-Werke, Standard-Triumph, GM, and – at a push – Subaru.

    2. Bill,
      Thanks for this comment and all the detailed information! Your comment should be published as an addendum to the article!

    3. Robertas, thanks for mentioning the Saab SVC engine. It seems that as soon as GM gained a controlling interest in Saab in 2001 they cancelled that program, so it was likely hatched entirely in Trollhättan. I find it just slightly less wacky than the Nissan KR.

      During their extended “Standard-Triumph” era, Saab used their limited resources to pioneer and innovate in turbocharging and electronic engine management systems. I can’t think of any significant innovations in engine block design since the early 1960s (nikasil perhaps?) So I’ll question whether unique block designs would have helped Saab much, and likewise whether Nissan will ever recoup what must be a massive investment in the KR.

  14. What a story to unravel, Daniel. And thank you for taking on the challenge – no easy task. My heat-hazed eyes see Nissan thinking they could jump onto the premium bandwagon a la Lexus to rather disastrous ends. Their vehicles to me retain glance worthy looks but little more. I’ve never sat in one probably because their nearest dealership was (is?) over thirty miles away.
    Locally, I’ve recently noticed half a dozen or so late plate Q50 saloons appeared; Autotrader has a forty four from around £8,000 up towards £20,000. But then at time of writing (in the U.K.) there’s only 200 used Infiniti overall. Lexus has over 3,000!
    And who’d have thought Mark Walton a boxing champ? Upper cut, upper cut, jab, right, left, left, right – POW! YOU’RE DOWN, INFINITI. No wonder you kept this, Robertas – brutally honest stuff.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. It did indeed take some time to unravel, but I think it was worthwhile to assist in understanding why Infiniti is in its current predicament.

  15. I always thought the company‘s slogan to be among the best ever:

    „From now on, Infinity“

    Granted, looking at the QX30, this doesn‘t sound very tempting. More like a threat.

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