CARLSBAD, Calif. - Infiniti has scrapped a plan to offer a high-performance sports car and instead will add a second sport-utility.
The change is just one part of a rewritten future product strategy aimed at remaking Infiniti into a purer 'performance luxury' brand.
The move also reflects a decision to rely more on the growing sport-utility market to help boost Infiniti sales to 150,000 a year by early in the next decade. That goal is part of a newly announced plan to increase combined U.S. Nissan and Infiniti sales to 1 million a year.
Last year, Infiniti's sales slipped to 63,649. It was the second year-to-year dip in the division's 10-year history,
The new sport-utility will arrive in the summer of 2002, after Infiniti makes significant changes in its four current products.
Infiniti would be delighted if a second sport-utility can do for Infiniti what a second sport-utility has done for Lexus. The RX 300 has put Lexus in first place in luxury-vehicle sales. It accounts for 37 percent of Lexus deliveries.
The redesigned I30 sedan goes on sale next month. The G20 and Q45 sedans will be redesigned and get beefier engines by the end of 2001. The QX4, Infiniti's existing sport-utility, will get a bigger engine this spring and a bigger one again in the summer of 2002 as part of a major redesign.
GOAL: SET INFINITI APART
The changes will set Infiniti products far apart from their mass-market Nissan siblings, executives told dealers at their annual meeting last week.
The changes include:
A fifth Infiniti product, once planned to be a sports car based on the Japanese Skyline, will be a sport-utility with sports-car performance attributes, said Tom Orbe, Infiniti Division general manager. It probably will be smaller and less expensive than the QX4, which will move upscale.
The QX4 will get a 240-hp, 3.5-liter, V-6 engine next spring, a step up from its 168-hp, 3.3-liter V-6. A redesign in the summer of 2002 will give the QX4 a V-8 engine exclusive to the sport-utility, as well as eight-passenger seating. The V-8 will be derived from the Q45's 4.5-liter mill, but its horsepower and torque curves will be reconfigured for truck performance, said Yuki Kitahora, Nissan North America senior vice president of sales and marketing.
The next Q45 will be larger and more powerful than the current model and will have a 4.5-liter, V-8 engine. The Q45 now has a 4.1-liter V-8. The front fascia will have a gaping ovoid grille, and the slab-sided silhouette will feature a roofline that tapers elegantly downward toward the rear. The car will arrive in March 2001. It will continue to be based on the Japanese Cedric/Gloria platform.
The G20 will be redesigned in the spring of 2001 and will have a six-cylinder engine for the first time. Displacement has not been decided. The four-cylinder engine, the G20's current powerplant, no longer will be offered. There also will be 'significant design changes,' Orbe said.
But giving the G20 a six-cylinder engine will push the sedan closer to Infiniti's other six-cylinder sedan, the I30.
'We have to avoid confusion between the G20 and the I30,' said Norio Matsumura, Nissan Motor Co. executive vice president of overseas operations. 'How do we incorporate features? How do we differentiate the two? There are lots of alternatives.'
One of those choices could be to offer just one six-cylinder sedan, opening up space for yet another new segment.
`A CLEAR LUXURY BRAND'
Regardless, Nissan's vision for Infiniti will no longer include a $22,000, four-cylinder sedan.
'We will be a clear luxury brand, not a near-luxury brand,' Matsumura said.'These new products will position Infiniti as a dynamic luxury franchise.'
Dealer Chuck Simpson, who owns two Infiniti stores in Atlanta, likes what he heard last week.
He said Nissan's new managers from Renault SA see investment in new product as an investment in a stock portfolio. He and other Infiniti dealers have already met with new Nissan Motor COO Carlos Ghosn.
'You can't grow the brand and your volume without investing in the product,' Simpson said. 'It looks as though we're finally fulfilling the expectations of what we bought into in 1989.'