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New York show: Infiniti to roll out performance badge

Seeing red: Infiniti North America vice-president Michael Bartsch says he expects the luxury car-maker will soon need to make a decision on a limited production run of the Eau Rouge performance concept.

Halo models to join Infiniti as car-maker takes control of its own future

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Infiniti logo28 Apr 2014

INFINITI says it will spin off its own performance sub-brand in an attempt to build itself a technology showcase across a range of future products.

Launching the Infiniti Eau Rouge mid-size sedan concept in the US, Infiniti Americas vice-president Michael Bartsch said the luxury offshoot of Japanese car-maker Nissan would soon have its own sub-brand to rival the likes of Audi’s S, BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG – although what letters it would wear was still being decided.

“So you can reasonably expect that you would have a performance variant of numerous models within the product portfolio,” Mr Bartsch said.

“A premium brand needs to have that sort of depth in order to be able to create the halo effects and the anchor and credibility of the currency of your technology and the design providence, and all that.

“Certainly you have to have credibility in the performance area.” As well as a performance sub-brand, Infiniti is planning a rapid expansion as part of a shift away from Nissan’s control as it plays catch-up with Toyota’s luxury offshoot, Lexus.

In October last year, Infiniti split from Nissan to become a standalone brand for the first time in its 25-year history – a point of difference that Mr Bartsch said had hurt Infiniti’s market share in the past.

“The next three years within Infiniti it’s very much a transition stage,” he said.

“One of the problems Infiniti had when you think that Infiniti and Lexus launched in the US at the same time 25 years ago, and the difference between Lexus and Infiniti was that Lexus was launched as an independent brand right from the get-go, and Infiniti was always a brand that was a sub-product of Nissan.

“And that’s ... not been optimal (for Infiniti) in terms of brand identity or brand independence and design independence.” He said buyers could soon expect “more independent, free thinking” from the luxury car brand.

According to Mr Bartsch, Infiniti will reinvent itself over the next three years, rolling out the city-sized Q30 hatchback – due on sale either late next year or early in 2016 – and Q30-based SUV, and at the higher end of the market a technology-laden rival to Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class.

“The Q30 is a world car, and it will be an important part of our mix,” Mr Bartsch said.

“It will represent a fairly important incremental step for us in volume.

“That will also push us into the luxury small crossover area, and that is the fastest-growing segment in the market in the US, so it’s an important car for us.” Future product design will draw deeply from the Q50, he said, with the model line-up expanding from its current eight to at least 12 vehicles within the next six years.

Meanwhile, Mr Bartsch confirmed that time was running out for Infiniti to make a decision about when its first pure performance vehicle, based on the Eau Rouge concept, will finally make its production debut.

Eau Rouge, which made its North American debut at this month’s New York motor show, is based on an Infiniti Q50, but features a number of aerodynamic tweaks and wears a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 borrowed from the Nissan GT-R supercar under its bonnet.

“These sorts of decisions (to commit to a production run for the Eau Rouge) have to be made this fiscal year, I can imagine, so this is not going to drag on,” Mr Bartsch said.

“What I can absolutely, categorically tell you is that this is a project which is very close to (Infiniti chief executive) Johan de Nysschen’s heart, and Johan is not a man who is very used to not getting what he wants.” Mr Bartsch said more details about Eau Rouge, including what sort of performance buyers can expect from the as-yet unidentified engine that sits under the car’s bonnet, would be released in the next few months.

Infiniti also used New York to launch an updated version of its QX80 SUV, a vehicle under active consideration for Australia to sit above the QX70, which is due on sale in the US in November.

Infiniti Cars Australia does have one of the large soft-roaders here, although Infiniti corporate communications supervisor Chris Jordan said the vehicle’s presence here was not a sign that it would definitely be added to the luxury brand’s showrooms.

New York also provided a first look at the facelifted Q70 large sedan featuring a heavily revised suspension system, which should arrive in Australia mid-way through next year after launching in the US late this year.

An extended wheelbase version of the Q70, which adds another 15cm to the sedan’s wheelbase to provide more rear-seat legroom, is not expected to sell in Australia despite going on sale in the US late this year.

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