The dark-of-night launch of Nissan Motor Corp.'s first U.S.-built luxury vehicle was a study in contrasts with launches from other luxury importers that have taken the plunge into North American production.
The first Infiniti QX56 SUV pulled off the line Tuesday, Jan. 20, in Canton, Miss., during the middle-of-the-night shift. No reporters were watching. No bands played. And there was no cadre of dignitaries from the home office.
The quiet introduction reflects Infiniti's ambitions for the full-sized SUV, which is based on the Titan pickup platform.
Mark Igo, Infiniti Division's general manager, says Infiniti plans to build only 15,000 QX56s this year. But he adds that the estimate is conservative.
The low-key launch was a departure from the fireworks-illuminated startups at BMW AG's first U.S. model line and the first American-made Mercedes-Benz line in 1997.
The QX56 does not promise the market punch of the first U.S.-built Acura model, the CL, which had production of more than 23,000 units in its first full year of production, or the first non-Japanese-built Lexus RX 330 last year in Ontario, which is working toward 70,000 units annually.
Nissan invested $1.4 billion to produce five models at the Canton plant, which has special Infiniti-only inspection points along the production line. Although the QX56 uses the same suppliers as the Pathfinder Armada SUV, which is made on the same line, the nameplate has several production differences, says Dave Boyer, Canton's vice president for manufacturing.
Infiniti inspectors watch the vehicle starting in the metal stamping department. The body gets a double application of clear coating. It receives more body protection to ward off dents and dings as it moves through trim and chassis, Boyer says. Wheels and exterior chrome trim are covered for protection during shipping.
The QX56 will go on sale at U.S. dealerships in spring. The QX56 has a sticker price of $48,080, including a $680 destination charge.