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  1. Analysis
June 10, 2021

Infiniti in crisis – what must Nissan do?

In contrast to Lexus, Infiniti vehicles are rare in China. Things aren't going too well in North America either. What's happened to Nissan's luxury brand?

By Glenn Brooks

The problems Infiniti is facing are of Nissan Motor’s making. The premium brand has some but not enough competitive models, with many needing to be replaced. Oddly, there is also very little in the way of electrification.

It could be argued that while the US remains the only country where the division sells a decent number of cars, failing to offer EVs or PHEVs there isn’t much of an issue. And yet, Americans are buying ever more ion-powered or part-time electric Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus, Volvo, Cadillac, Acura, Land Rover, Buick, Jeep and even Jaguar vehicles.

The lack of battery vehicles is only part of the problem. Does anyone understand why Nissan has not given Infiniti replacements for once strong performers such as the QX70, discontinued in 2017. That SUV had been on the market for more than nine years too.

In China, Infiniti is nowhere despite having local production of two models, the Q50 L and QX50. Consumers are either unaware of or indifferent to them. The first of the pair is also old. When will it be replaced? In fact that question pops up again and again when examining the global model line-up.

During the first quarter, combined wholesale deliveries of the Q50 L and QX50 numbered 589 units. Jaguar, another brand which has struggled in the world’s biggest market, managed almost ten times that volume (5,587) in the same period.

How about imports; surely things must be better there in the context of Lexus being massively successful? The Toyota division lands way more vehicles in the PRC than any other marque – 60,562 in Q1 – customers being especially keen on the ES sedan (1 Jan-31 Mar: 31,351). By contrast, Infiniti imports numbered a discouraging 289 units, down 61% versus quarter one of 2020.

To fix Infiniti, Nissan Motor needs to start launching lots of new cars and SUVs. But with cash tight and multiple vehicle programmes delayed, we might be waiting some time before any signs of a turnaround become visible. And will the brand still exist in China should the situation remain as is?

Cars

Will there be a new Q50/Q50 L? It seems increasingly unlikely. The current car dates to 2013 so if Infiniti USA believes the segment isn’t worth fighting BMW, Mercedes and Audi for, the existing sedan might be the brand’s final try at mixing it with the ES, IS, 3 Series, C-Class, A4 and S60.

Above the Q50, a much overdue effective replacement for Infiniti’s former big luxury sedan has had multiple rethinks and subsequent delays. Several generations of the Q were sold mostly in North America from the time of the brand’s launch in the early 1990s.

Sources now indicate that any revival of the Q would likely be aimed at the Mercedes EQS, Audi e-tron GT and Nio ET7 rather than the Lexus LS.

A preview of the Q80 in the form of the Q80 Inspiration concept was revealed at the Paris motor show in October 2014. There was another design study at the 2018 Detroit auto show: the Q Inspiration concept. A further concept, the Qs Inspiration, premiered at the Shanghai motor show in April 2019. This was said to be a preview of a new sports sedan which will have an electrified powertrain.

SUVs

Now three and a half years old, the QX50 is easily the brand’s best seller. US deliveries for Q1 numbered 6,425 units, this being the only Infiniti to have a year-on-year sales rise (by 54.1%). Overall, the brand’s tally dropped by a quarter to just 19,071 cars and SUVs, every vehicle in the range aside from the top performer suffering a double-digit decline.

Introduced for the 2019 model year, the QX50 had only minor changes for the 2020 and 2021 model years in the USA. If a facelift fails to eventuate for MY2022, then expect it during calendar 2022. A new generation model is due in 2025.

The QX50 was the first vehicle for the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler’s Aguascalientes 2 plant in north-central Mexico. The QX55, a would-be competitor for the BMW X4, is made there too.

Infiniti revealed this model, which can be thought of as a coupe-crossover version of the QX50, in November 2020. In North America, it’s new for the 2022 model year, sales having begun in April.

The only engine is Nissan and Infiniti’s Variable Compression Turbo four-cylinder turbo, which is linked to a CVT. Stated outputs are 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Vehicles for the US and Canada have standard all-wheel drive.

The next generation of the SUV which is one size up from the QX50 and QX55 will be shown for the first time on 23 June. As Nissan stopped building the previous shape QX60 six months ago, dealers in North America will have had a long wait for the successor by the time it reaches dealer lots.

The general appearance was previewed by the QX60 Monograph, a concept from the Beijing motor show in September 2020. Five months later, it was announced that the next QX60 for the US would have a 295 horsepower 3.5-litre V6 and a nine-speed automatic transmission. One or more smaller capacity engines should be added during CY2022.

The new model will be crucial for the brand in its largest market, so the US launch will come first (October). The life cycle should be eight years, meaning the mid-cycle facelift can be pencilled in for the 2026 model year.

Given that a QX55 is coming, there seems no reason why Infiniti couldn’t also have a QX75, although such a crossover would be either an EV or otherwise electrified.

After having delayed plans to add an electric model some years ago, Nissan has given the go-ahead to produce an Infiniti EV. This was confirmed by Hiroto Saikawa before he stepped down in September 2019.

Nissan Motor’s former CEO further stated that Infiniti “will offer a mix of pure electric vehicles (EV) and e-Power vehicles”. The latter means a small petrol engine which charges a high-output battery and no plugging in.

“As a result of this emphasis on low-emission technology, Infiniti expects more than half its global sales to be comprised of electric vehicles by 2025”, Saikawa added.

Infiniti is also being given its own architecture for all future models, with the exception of the QX80 replacement, which will of course use a body-on-frame construction. The new platform was announced at the Beijing motor show in April 2018. It is claimed that it will be unique to the brand and compatible with battery-electric as well as e-Power. The as yet unnamed platform was previewed in the Q Inspiration Concept unveiled at the Detroit auto show more than three years ago.

The future Infiniti EV will be a crossover, it was announced in December 2018, with a preview of the model – the QX Inspiration concept – taking place a month later at the 2019 Detroit auto show. If the production model is the same size as the concept then it will be a competitor for the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron, BMW iX3, Mercedes EQC and others.

A further take on Nissan’s plans for a fully electric Infiniti was revealed at the Shanghai motor show in April 2019: the Qs Inspiration concept. According to rumour, the production model will be manufactured in China by the Dongfeng Nissan JV. An announcement concerning this vehicle should be made within months.

Due originally in 2021, the second generation QX80 may not appear until 2022 or even 2023. The styling is expected to have been previewed by the QX80 Monograph, a concept which Infiniti showed to the media in April 2017 at an event in New York city.

The brand’s biggest SUV should carry over its 5.6-litre V8 although Nissan’s VC-Turbo engine might also be available. This huge, up to eight-seater vehicle will be sold mostly in North America, Russia, Australia and certain Gulf States. The US has always been the QX80’s best market.

The new model might have the same platform as the one developed by Mitsubishi Motors for ladder-frame pick-up trucks such as the L200 and Frontier replacements.

Reports for many other manufacturers’ future models are grouped in the OEM product strategy summaries section of Just Auto.

Future platform intelligence

More detail on past, current and forthcoming models can be found in PLDB, the future vehicles database which is part of GlobalData’s Automotive Intelligence Center.

This is the fifth of seven features examining the future models of brands in Group Renault and Nissan Motor’s R-N-M Alliance. The first report was all about the Renault brand, along with Renault Samsung Motors. This was followed by Alpine and then Mitsubishi. Next comes Venucia. The series will end with a look at Nissan between now and the early 2030s.

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