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Frankfurt show: Infiniti’s future products take shape

EV for Oz: Infiniti’s first electric car, a luxury five-seater due to reach production in 2014, is on the agenda for Australia.

Luxury EV, premium compact contender, mid-engined sportscar on the Infiniti agenda

19 Sep 2011

EXPANDING Japanese luxury brand Infiniti revealed details of three new vehicles it has in the works at the Frankfurt show, plus plans to start producing cars outside Japan as it works towards building a ten-strong product line-up and 500,000 annual sales for a 10 per cent share of the global luxury market by 2016.

A luxury five-seat EV and a premium compact passenger car are confirmed for production in 2014 and highly likely to be added to Infiniti’s Australian range at that time.

A mid-engined Infiniti two-seater sportscar is also on the cards.

Infiniti first announced its intentions to produce a battery-powered car at the 2009 Tokyo motor show, but scant details were revealed at Frankfurt other than it will be a “stylish, high-performance luxury vehicle with zero emissions technology”.

Infiniti Cars Australia general manager Kevin Snell told GoAuto the EV will be a “genuine five-seater” rather than a compact and that the brand is keen to bring it to Australia, just as parent company Nissan is doing with the Leaf hatch.

“That sort of technology, we’re seeing growth there and the broader corporation has got a real strength and advantage in that space,” he said. “It will add a lot to the brand as we’re building it up in the first few years.” An expansion of the Renault-Nissan alliance’s collaboration with Daimler will probably result in the compact Infiniti sharing underpinnings with the next-generation Mercedes-Benz B-class as it goes head-to-head against German rivals such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, not to mention the Japanese Lexus CT200h.

16 center imageLeft: Infiniti Etherea concept.

The relationship already sees the two groups sharing platforms and engines, resulting in the next Smart being based on the Twingo, Mercedes engines under the bonnets of Infinitis and Renault-Nissan engines powering Benz models like the A-class and Vito van.

Mr Snell said the compact Infiniti is likely to be released in Australia – hopefully soon after its global launch in 2014 – as it is an important model for growth beyond the initial launch line-up.

He said the proportions are expected to be similar to the Etherea, but that “styling wise we expect it to express the brand design direction set by the Essence concept (from the 2009 Geneva show)”.

He said it is likely to account for 40 per cent of the brand’s European volume, where compact is the largest premium segment, and would represent “upwards of 20 per cent of our longer-term sales” in Australia, where Infiniti sees the segment growing quickly.

Although sharing platforms and engines with Infiniti could be seen as helping a potential rival, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said at a joint press conference in Frankfurt with Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn that in the minds of premium car buyers “there is extremely limited cross consideration” between the Infiniti and Mercedes brands.

Mr Ghosn said the next generation of Infiniti vehicles would be built outside Japan to protect against the strong yen.

A likely European facility has been mooted but Reuters reports the company indicated a Chinese factory would also be necessary to meet demand for the compact car.

Mr Snell confirmed expansion beyond Japan but could not name specific countries.

“As the range of products expands over the next few years Japanese production will be complemented by some new models produced in other markets,” said Mr Snell.

“However, this is incremental to support growth, not in the place of Japanese production.” He was not able to comment on the Infiniti sportscar – expected to debut in concept form at next year’s Geneva show – but UK magazine Autocar said it was confirmed by Infiniti’s global head of planning and communication, Andy Palmer.

Red Bull Racing, of which Infiniti is a sponsor, could be involved with the car’s development.

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel helped design the first collaboration, a souped-up FX SUV that took pride of place on Infiniti’s Frankfurt show stand.

The F1 world champion’s Autobahn-bashing goal of a 300km/h top speed for the FX was achieved by removing the 250km/h electronic speed limiter and increasing the 5.0-litre V8’s output from 287kW to 309kW by fitting a sports exhaust and reprogramming the engine’s electronics.

The second stage was to install a longer final-drive ratio to enable cruising at 300km/h without the engine revving at an unrefined level. The longer ratio has the side-effect of reducing acceleration, but the hot FX still manages to hit 100km/h from rest two tenths quicker – in 5.6 seconds.

F1-inspired aerodynamics with lashings of carbon-fibre resulted in a new front splitter, sills, rear diffuser, rear wing, grille and door mirror housings.

The aero pack, combined with 20mm-lower suspension – with stiffer springs and uprated dampers – is said to reduce the SUV’s drag coefficient by five per cent while increasing downforce.

Infiniti claims that lightweight 21-inch wheels and the carbon-fibre accoutrements result in a 46kg weight saving over a standard FX50 in S Premium trim.

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