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Infiniti aims for early adopters

Hide and seek: Infiniti Australia will test the theory that anonymity is a virtue.

‘Point of difference’ the key to Australia as Infiniti targets younger luxury buyers

Infiniti logo4 Jun 2012


INFINITI Australia will use its relative anonymity Down Under as a virtue by pitching its cars at “modern and younger” customers to whom the idea of being an early adopter is likely to hold a lot of appeal.

The company’s general manager Kevin Snell told GoAuto he expects Infiniti will shake up the market when it launches here in August by offering a vital point of difference from increasingly homogeneous major players.

“Our brand, by being new and somewhat an unknown, is going to appeal to early adopters, innovators, who are into technology, who are naturally leaders, not followers,” he said.

Mr Snell said Infiniti would market its range as being different from “traditional status symbols” like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, which he said offer little variety or point of difference from one another in terms of performance, styling or “brand values”.

“We think there’s still a lot of clear space in the luxury segment for someone who comes along with something a bit different,” he said.

“Our intention is not to say we’re the same as these guys only better, our intention is to come to market and say these guys are great, and they’ve had a lot of success for a reason, but they’re not for everyone, and there’s a bunch of people out there who want something different.

“For those people who want a new, younger, fresher, more progressive luxury brand that’s not constrained by history and heritage, that is innovative and builds daring, progressive, emotional cars, there’s Infiniti,” he said.

A subsidiary of Japanese car-maker Nissan, Infiniti will launch in Australia with just two model lines – the FX medium SUV and the M sedan – before adding the G coupe and cabriolet around December.

It will start with only three eastern seaboard dealerships, having selected AP Eagers to represent it in Brisbane, Penfold Motors to handle Melbourne and Suttons Motors Group for Sydney.

 center imageFrom top: Infiniti FX SUV and M sedan.

The company projects that around 80 per cent of sales from launch will be of the FX, which it says will compete against the likes of the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Lexus RX, as well as more sports-oriented (and expensive) rivals like the Porsche Cayenne.

Mr Snell told GoAuto that a slow-burn approach was the key to launching a new luxury brand into a mature market like Australia – where he said its brand recognition sits at just two per cent – because it sets the foundations for sustained expansion in the longer term.

“If you go too fast too early you make compromises and mistakes, so we’re not taking too many risks in that first couple of years – it’s about the brand and the customer experiences and getting a solid foundation into place and, as the new product comes along, capitalising on that by expanding,” he said.

The company plans to grow swiftly from its modest beginnings, with plans for new dealerships in Perth and Adelaide by the end of next year, by which time it will have launched the next-generation G sedan powered by Mercedes-Benz engines as part of Nissan-Renault’s alliance with Daimler.

Between the end of 2013 and 2016, there will be a suite of new models including the next-generation EX premium compact crossover, a premium small car based on the Mercedes A-Class, a full-electric passenger car and a dedicated sportscar.

This expanded range will be supported by an expanded dealer network that will include sites in major regional centres such as the Gold Coast, Geelong and Newcastle.

While the company operates with a degree of autonomy from its Japanese parent via a small 12-person team, Mr Snell reports directly to recently appointed Nissan Australia CEO and managing director Bill Peffer.

Far from hiding its links to a mainstream company, Mr Snell said Infiniti Australia was keen to point out the benefits of this association in the mindset of its prospective customers.

“We are proudly part of Nissan. We will rely and benefit greatly from the resources, the processes, the back office, the infrastructure and the financial power (of Nissan Australia), quite frankly.

“We’re a new brand that’s coming to market, and with any new brand ... there’s an element of perceived risk in the unknown, and what being part of Nissan does is give enormous confidence to retailers and customers.”

While Infiniti is most obviously a competitor to Toyota’s luxury arm Lexus, Mr Snell said the two brands have markedly different philosophies, with Infiniti having always been geared to a more youthful and sporting section of the market.

Headlining the FX range will be the FX50S, which is powered by a 287kW/500Nm 5.0-litre petrol V8.

It will sell alongside the FX37 (with a petrol 3.7-litre 235kW V6 taken from the Nissan 370Z) and FX30d, powered by the Renault-sourced 3.0-litre 175kW/550Nm diesel V6.

While the company expects the bulk of FX sales in the longer-term will be diesels, Mr Snell said there is likely to be an initially high take-up of petrol, particularly the (likely) $100,000-plus FX50S, because these were more likely to appeal to performance-oriented early adopters.

The M sedan will be available in petrol, diesel and petrol-electric hybrid variants, with the latter M35h (the Nissan Group’s first hybrid in Australia) combining a 225kW petrol V6 engine with a 50kW electric motor for maximum power of 275kW and torque of 620Nm.

This variant is described as a sporty hybrid rather than a dedicated fuel-saver, a fact illustrated by its 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.5 seconds.

Fuel economy is claimed to be 7.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions of 162 grams per kilometre.

The M35h is closest in size and configuration to the recently released Lexus GS450h hybrid, but the M range is also pitched against German rivals such as the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

The G37 coupe and cabriolet are both powered by a 246kW version of the 3.7-litre Nissan V6 and will take on the likes of the BMW 3 Series coupe and convertible, Audi A5 and Lexus IS250C.

Mr Snell said the company was projecting an almost even split between the hardtop and soft-top variants from launch.

All three Infiniti lines to be offered in Australia this year are based on the same versatile monocoque platform as the rear-drive Nissan 370Z, with double-wishbone front suspension, multi-link rear suspension and a seven-speed automatic transmission.

FX SUV models are all-wheel drive, while the M and G models are rear-drive only.

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