We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, from 2010 to the present day and ponder its future.
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.
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.
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|
|FX35 / FX50||QX70|
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.
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|
|Q60||Compact coupé and convertible||2,792||3.5%|
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|
|Q50L||Compact saloon (LWB)||8,979||34.9%|
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 www.carsalesbase.com.
(2) The outgoing G Series saloon was renamed Q40 in its final year of production.