ROME - The redesigned 2002 Q45 sedan, Infiniti's new flagship, is the first vehicle in a new product line aimed at relaunching the brand as a serious competitor to the Germans.
The new products, which are expected to arrive over the next four years, will have distinctive styling, powerful V-8 and V-6 engines and handling and comfort on a par with Europe's luxury makes. And like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, all new Infiniti vehicles will have rear-wheel drive, probably with all-wheel-drive options.
The first vehicle out of the box, the redesigned Q45 flagship, is a full-sized rwd luxury sedan powered by a 340 hp V-8. It offers a long list of high-tech features, such as a trunk-mounted TV camera to give the driver full rear vision while backing up.
It goes on sale in April.
'The Q45 is more than just a car. It reestablishes the whole franchise for us,' Tom Orbe, Infiniti Division general manager, said here at the car's press introduction last month.
'This is the flagship, a complete new vehicle. It's the epitome of acceleration, performance, and it energizes the whole franchise.'
When the brand was launched in 1989, Infiniti had similar aspirations. But over the years the division sent mixed messages with a lineup that included a sporty V-8-powered reardrive flagship and four- and six-cylinder front-wheel-drive cars.
When the second-generation Q45 was introduced in 1996, the sleek lines were replaced with boxy styling and a smaller V-8, turning off repeat buyers.
The difference this time, Infiniti executives vow, is that the division's future cars won't appear to be mere tweaks of lower-priced Nissans. Future Infinitis will have unique styling and features with an emphasis on performance, they say.
But whether Infiniti will be allowed to create stand-alone vehicles when parent Nissan is reducing its platform count and consolidating product development with Renault remains to be seen.
Nissan President Carlos Ghosn has outlined a vision in which all Renault and Nissan models will be built off 10 common platforms, down from more than 25 now.
Still, the Q45 will be followed early next year by a smaller rwd sedan that adopts styling cues from the XVL concept that debuted at the 2000 New York auto show. The new model - which an executive said will not be named XVL - will push the lowest rung of the Infiniti price ladder several thousand dollars higher.
The V-6-powered car, which will replace the four-cylinder front-drive G20 at the bottom of the lineup, will be priced around $30,000. The G20 sells for approximately $23,000.
Other new products being considered for the Infiniti portfolio include a high-performance sport wagon, a sport-utility and a replacement for its volume model, the I30 sedan.
3 from 1 platform
Although he did not give details, marketing director Steve Kight said the division will be getting three distinct vehicles from the same platform architecture.
Infiniti gave a strong signal it is considering a high-performance sport wagon when it unveiled the V-8 FX45 concept at the Detroit auto show last month.
The FX45's overall styling, highlighted by a greenhouse that slopes sharply to the rear, would steer the automaker into territory Cadillac and Porsche also are considering.
Though executives would not confirm that a new sport-utility also is in development, Kight said that for Infiniti to produce such a vehicle, 'It would have to be bigger than the QX4 and still be consistent with (Infiniti's) performance image.'
It likely would not be as rugged as the Toyota Land Cruiser, he said, but 'there is a lot of room to take it to the world of performance.'
Less clear is a replacement for Infiniti's volume model, the I30 sedan. The front-drive car, a lightly made-over Nissan Maxima, accounted for 49.5 percent of the division's record 78,351 vehicle sales last year.
Teruo Miyauchi, chief product specialist, said 'the I30 will be replaced, but the timing has not been decided.' Adds Kight: 'We don't want to walk away from those customers. (But) I think that in less than 24 months, the vast majority of our sales will be rwd. Whether the I30 lasts two years or three will depend on the market.'