NEW YORK - Infiniti Division has become a study in extremes.
Its G35 sedan and coupe are selling strongly, and the just-launched crossover FX45 and FX35 sport wagons are making a dent in the high end of the SUV market. But sales of the marque's flagship sedans are going nowhere.
Infiniti sales through April are up 33.3 percent to 35,176 units, a strong showing from last year's record numbers. But the gains are entirely coming from the G35 and FX sport wagons.
The previous volume leader, the entry-luxury I35 sedan derived from the old Nissan Maxima, has been mostly supplanted by the G35, and its sales are off by half this year. What's more, sales of Infiniti's premium Q45 and M45 sedans are limping along far below projected levels.
When the M45 was introduced last fall, the division wanted to sell 12,000 units annually, in addition to at least 10,000 copies of the Q45, which was redesigned in spring 2001. But those targets seem pipe dreams, as neither one seems capable of selling more than a few hundred units a month.
For the four months through April, Q45 sales are off 41 percent from a year earlier to 818 units. Sales of the M totaled just 1,347 units in the same period.
A top executive admits Infiniti miscalculated the M45 launch. Infiniti already had won a massive media presence launching the G35 and FX45, and figured that word-of-mouth would sell the M45. Wrong.
"We knew the G35 and FX45 would draw attention to Infiniti, and thought that the M45 would do fine with just print ads and store traffic," says Jed Connelly, Nissan North America Inc. senior vice president of sales and marketing. "But people didn't know enough about the M45 to switch from whatever they were shopping for initially."
To adjust, Infiniti is relaunching the M45 with spot TV ads on cable and on Sunday morning network news programs. Connelly declined to give the cost of the relaunch.
But Eric Noble, analyst with The Car Lab in Santa Ana, Calif., says the problem with the M45 is the product, not its marketing.
"The M45 was designed for the Japanese market. It's a seven-eighths package being marketed in an eight-eighths-scale market," Noble says.
On the other hand, Noble adds that the capital risk is low for Infiniti: "Getting full certification for the U.S. costs about $10 million, so it's not hard to recover the costs, and it doesn't damage the brand. It's a place holder."
Indeed it is. Infiniti plans to redesign the M45 just two years from now.