NEW YORK - Infiniti Division will undergo a dramatic change in its brand identity, company executives said last week at the New York International Auto Show.
'We intend to keep Infiniti' under the Nissan-Renault partnership approved March 27, said Yoshikazu Hanawa, president of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., at a press event here. 'It is a very important channel for us,' given the growth of the U.S. luxury market.
Added Minoru Nakamura, Nissan North America president: 'Infiniti is an important contributor to Nissan's overall profitability, and we are committed to increasing our support to the franchise.'
Nakamura said Nissan will dedicate greater resources to making Infiniti products more distinct in the United States.
Whereas Infiniti to date has tried to play on the same fields as Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, the division now will court a younger customer that prefers 'casual luxury,' said Steve Kight, Infiniti director of marketing.
Rather than chase the leading edge of the baby boom - consumers just entering their 50s - Infiniti will adjust its target marketing toward the trailing edge of the boom and the successful leading edge of Generation X - consumers who are about 34 to 42 years old. In doing so, Infiniti hopes to attract the hip members of the leading edge of the boom as well.
'The luxury market is changing. What they want is agility and expressiveness, not pretentiousness,' Kight said.
Infiniti sales dropped 2.9 percent in 1998 to 63,649, less than half of Lexus last year. Kight wants Infiniti to break 100,000 units in the next few years.
In addition to its redesigned I30 sedan and upgraded QX4 sport-utility, which go on sale in September, Infiniti showcased the following vehicles at a preview here:
A clay model of the next-generation Q45, which will arrive in fall 2000. Although not the final design, the concept vehicle hints at the solidity of the old Mercedes-Benz S class and the svelteness of the new S class. A larger V-8 engine will develop well over 300 hp, and there might be a five-speed automatic transmission, Kight said.
Sketches of a more powerful G20 sedan, short-cycled to arrive in spring 2001.
Sketches of an aggressive car-based sport-utility that would join the existing QX4.
Sketches of a luxury sports car, a halo car with a high-output engine, six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive.
JAPAN IS LISTENING
'We're putting a stake in the ground about what's coming,' said Kight. 'But we're also making no apologies for the product that's out there. I think the dealers should be able to sell the heck out of the product line we have right now.'
Top Infiniti dealers are confident, especially those who recently returned from a future product strategy trip to Japan.
'The factory and designers are listening to our suggestions now. The last time, they seemed surprised we asked for changes, and the time before that, they didn't even listen,' said Warren Zinn, president of Warren Henry Automobiles in Miami and Infiniti's dealer council vice chairman. 'We're definitely making progress.'