Nissan’s latest strategy for its premium Infiniti brand has been described as less “mini-Mercedes” and more “Nissan-plus.”
Financially beleaguered Nissan Motor Co. will lean into greater collaboration between mass-market Nissan and premium Infiniti. That means Infiniti will share platforms, powertrains and assembly lines with the Nissan product line in an effort to boost product development efficiencies.
But don’t expect the next fleet of Infiniti sedans and crossovers to be spruced-up Nissans. “Rebadged cars are not the direction that we’re going,” Infiniti Americas Group Vice President Jeff Pope told Automotive News last week.
Infiniti will differentiate with design, luxury and performance.
The new strategy “allows us to do more with less,” Pope said. “What that means is getting a vehicle into the market that has all the bells and whistles we expect it to have in a luxury vehicle and still be at a price point that we feel is very realistic.”
Platform-sharing among brands is likely to help automakers offset their pricey investments in electrification and autonomous driving technologies. Nissan and Infiniti already share platforms. The Nissan Z sports car shares underpinnings with the Infiniti Q50 and Q60.
“It’s the right thing to do in the industry,” Pope said. “What you’re able to do then is spend your resources on the things that are truly going to differentiate the car and make it a luxury car, versus a mass-market car.”
The strategic pivot comes as Infiniti updates what is one of the oldest product portfolios in the industry. Infiniti will launch five vehicles globally in the next three years, starting with the all-new QX55 crossover.
The coupe version of the QX50 was planned for the second half of 2020 but was delayed until early next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The QX55 will have a similar powertrain and sport a sloping roofline inspired by the first-generation FX performance crossover. While the new crossover shares design elements with the QX50, the front end is different and features a new grille design.
The QX55 “sets the stage for us to start to move forward,” Pope said.
That launch will be followed by a redesign of the midsize three-row QX60 crossover which should arrive in U.S. stores by summer. It will be the first product launch under the “Nissan-plus” strategy — a test to see whether the brands can share more components without sacrificing their distinct identities.
The second-generation QX60 will feature a raised hood profile, larger grille, dual 12.3-inch screens and a two-tone roof.
“You can expect the vehicle to be significantly upgraded in terms of technology and interior,” Pope said.
At launch, the QX60 is expected to be offered only with a gas engine. But, Pope left the door open for other powertrains. “We will not rule out anything in the future,” he said.
Last month, Infiniti teased elements of the next-generation QX60 crossover in a design study referred to as the QX60 Monograph.
The platinum-hued QX60 Monograph’s wide body and track revealed a more muscular look than that of the outgoing model. In the front and rear, “digital piano key” lighting delivers a futuristic feel while the rear lamps wrap around the tail in a continuous swoop.
“This design execution, yes it’s for QX60, but it also lends itself to where we might go in the future,” Pope said.
Updating the QX60 is a critical step in rejuvenating Infiniti, which has suffered a multiyear sales slide in the U.S. market. Infiniti’s U.S. sales cratered 21 percent last year, well before the hit of the coronavirus shutdown. Infiniti sales in the first nine months of this year fell 33 percent from the same time last year.
The QX60 accounted for nearly 40 percent of Infiniti’s U.S. sales last year.
“This is a key vehicle in our lineup,” Pope said. “It will make up a large portion of our sales and will drive a lot of our business as we move forward.”
The three-row crossover hits a market sweet spot in the U.S., Pope said, citing the model’s combination of utility and luxury.
He expects the new QX60 to help lift U.S. sales by drawing new customers to the brand.
“If you look at the Monograph that was shown, any vehicle that’s going to look like that is going to draw the attention of many consumers that have never driven Infiniti before,” Pope said. “Which is exactly what you want in a new model launch.”