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Infiniti set to expand in Australia

Another teaser: Infiniti continues to issue sneak-peeks of its upcoming JX seven-seat SUV ahead of its full reveal in Pebble Beach on August 18.

JX SUV a hot prospect for Australia as local range takes shape beyond 2012 launch

5 Aug 2011

INFINITI’S all-new JX seven-seat SUV to be unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on August 18 is on the agenda for sale in Australia as part of a fresh wave of new models that will expand the range beyond the initial three-model line-up launched in the third quarter of 2012.

As the premium Japanese brand issued its fifth teaser image of the near-production JX, which is expected to be shown in final form at the Los Angeles auto show in November ahead of a mid-2012 North American debut, Infiniti/Nissan Australia chief executive Dan Thompson told GoAuto that the JX seven-seater was an obvious contender to join the Australian portfolio, probably in 2013.

The latest teaser is a straight-on rear-end photograph, which shows the back end of the sculptural JX seven-seater in full form for the first time.

It includes narrow tail-lights that wrap around from the tailgate to the fat rear fenders, a prominent spoiler with Infiniti logo protruding from just below the rear window, a heavily sculpted thick rear bumper with rear parking sensors, and a chrome upper lip that frames the numberplate housing and will also serve as the tailgate opening point.

In Australia, the JX would be positioned above the FX mid-size SUV, which is part of next year’s launch line-up with the G37 mid-size sports series and the M-series large sedan. The FX was also shown with a significant facelift in the US this week.

16 center imageLeft: Other Infiniti JX teaser shots. Below: Infinti QX, Etherea concept, Essence concept.

Although Mr Thompson would not discuss specific Infiniti models believed to be in development, including a high-performance road car developed in collaboration with Formula One partner Red Bull Racing, he said there were a “lot of compelling products” in the global portfolio, from which Australia would pick and choose.

“We’re at the stage now where we’re getting through research and defining what space we want to own and where the brand needs to sit here locally,” he said.

“We’re focused on the launch models, we’re focused on getting that experience and brand right, and then obviously as additional products – for instance, the US has just announced the JX seven-seater – those are product that, for us, would be under study probably in the next 12-month period.

“We’ll never be a full line-up, but we’ll be a line-up that we’re comfortable in the representation of the whole brand and across the whole portfolio,” he said, adding that it will take “about 24 months” to reach the point where the full line-up is largely in place.

Under Nissan’s ‘Power 88’ mid-term business plan announced on June 27 (covering fiscal years 2011 to 2016), the Japanese auto giant intends to grow the Infiniti brand from its 2010 sales level of 150,000 vehicles to 10 per cent global market share among luxury brand segments – a level that represents 500,000 vehicles, based on the current market.

The company also said Infiniti would be present in more than 70 markets with a product range of at least 10 vehicles.

Mr Thompson confirmed that Australia would not offer the QX full-size SUV – it is too close to the new-generation Patrol upon which it is based, and which will be launched here next year – and would not introduce products that were nearing the end of their lifecycle.

These include the current G-series sedan (a potentially high-volume rival to the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Lexus IS), along with the EX small/medium SUV – two models that can be expected here when they enter a new generation before mid-decade.

Mr Thompson did, however, confirm that a full-electric Infiniti was under development and said the alliance that Nissan forged with Daimler last year should extend beyond petrol and diesel engines to the sharing of vehicle platforms: “That is the intent – that everything is explored, platforms and powertrains and even production capacity.”

Nissan signalled its intention to create a direct competitor for compact luxury cars such as BMW’s 1 Series and Audi’s A3 via the Etherea hatchback concept shown at Geneva in March – another model that should be in the second wave of Infiniti models sold here – while the 2009 Essence hybrid concept previewed a potential new sportscar for the brand.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is on record as saying he likes the prospect of an Infiniti supercar based on the GT-R, but stopped short of confirming that a high-end Godzilla-based coupe is in development.

In the meantime, Mr Thompson said that although the Infiniti brand had suffered badly as a result of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan – due largely to its heavily reliance on the VQ-series V6 engine (built in Iwaki, which was “absolutely hammered”) and hi-tech electronics derived from earthquake-affected suppliers – “there hasn’t been anything that has set our launch plans back”.

“For our launch which is set in stone for the end of next year, we will take three product lines – the G (G37 coupe/convertible), the FX and the M – and within each of those line-ups we are still yet to determine precisely what we will take,” he said.

“A lot of it will be determined by lifecycle – we don’t want to take a product that is going to be refreshed in 12 months’ time.

“The team’s in place, the product development’s on track, the network development’s on track, and we’ve spent probably the last three months doing really intensive market and customer-based research to make sure that we could find the space to ‘own’ here in this market, within the global parameters.

“It’s clear to us that there is an unmet need in this market. We believe that Infiniti’s brand position, which is ‘inspired performance’, really will sit nicely. We have traditional luxury brands here, and Infiniti probably doesn’t go head-to-head with Mercedes, in fact – it’s more of an up-and-coming and a challenger brand – we think that fits quite well and what we’re seeing out of the research is that resonates quite well in this market with the Australian premium buyer.

“We want to be different. We want to be a ‘challenger’ in that premium space.”

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