Retooled QX50 fills Infiniti's 'biggest void'

The 2019 Infiniti QX50, designed and engineered on an all-new platform, went on sale in March.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — For Infiniti, the 2019 QX50 is a pivotal reboot engineered to fortify the luxury brand's standing in the U.S. market.

That's why Infiniti executives here called the crossover — all-new inside and out — the brand's most important product launch since the original Q45 luxury sedan three decades ago.

The compact premium crossover has been designed and engineered on an all-new platform in cooperation with Daimler AG. It is being assembled at a new $1.4 billion plant owned by Nissan and Daimler in Mexico.

It went on sale in March, and Infiniti officials already expect the crossover to become the brand's top seller in the U.S. — ahead of the Q50 sedan, QX60 crossover and QX80 SUV, Infiniti's top three U.S. sellers in 2017. It will do so partly by appealing to buyers shopping for both compact premium and midsize premium crossovers. It is priced below the segments' top selling competitors, the Mercedes GLC, Lexus NX and RX, and Acura RDX.

Infiniti has been on a sales roll. But it is ready for a shot in the arm. After rising 11 percent in 2017, the brand's U.S. sales have slid 6.1 percent this year through March.

"It fills the biggest void in the Infiniti lineup and lands in the biggest luxury segment," said Sean McNamara, head of product planning for Infiniti. "We've done our homework."

The outgoing QX50, compromised by a snug second row and small cargo capacity, was largely overshadowed by the BMW X3, RDX and newer entrants such as the Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan. It was rear-wheel drive and essentially a raised wagon version of the G sedan.

With the new platform, the QX50 is wider and taller, design changes that translate into more space for up to five passengers and what Infiniti officials call "improved utility."

The compact premium crossover market is smaller than the midsize premium crossover segment but is growing faster. Yet the enormously competitive market for compact premium crossovers will become more crowded with the Cadillac XT4 and Jaguar E-Pace in coming months.

Randy Parker, former head of Infiniti America who stepped into a new global Nissan role effective April 1, said a derivative of the QX50 is planned, raising speculation Infiniti is prepping a sport version with a more coupe-like profile, to match up against German rivals.

The QX50 rollout includes unprecedented dealer training. For the first time in years, Infiniti invited every U.S. dealer to California for in-depth schooling to drive and learn about the QX50. Some dealers already have anointed the QX50 the brand's new franchise.

"We want dealers to experience it firsthand," Parker said. "It's not business as usual with this vehicle."

The North American production source will speed QX50 orders and communications between U.S. dealers and the factory.

Infiniti blanketed existing and potential customers with promotional offers to stoke QX50 interest and orders. Customers who reserve a QX50, with no obligation, become eligible for a choice of three gifts with a lease or purchase. The number of QX50 prospects who join the reservation program will determine the amount of gifts available. More than 15,000 prospects have joined the reservation program.

You can reach David Phillips at dphillips@crain.com

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