The trend was on full display last month at the auto show in Beijing, where Lexus and Infiniti debuted new styling directions.
The refreshed Lexus IS got gaping, big-gulp air intakes to imbue the sedan with a meaner mug meant to turn heads. Meanwhile, the Infiniti QX Sport Inspiration concept foreshadowed sexy, undulating sheet metal calculated to make the brand stand out.
Acura, which debuted its China-only CDX compact crossover in Beijing, gave the vehicle's grille an ostentatiously oversized Acura caliper logo to telegraph its identity.
"It's with China in mind because China is a rather young market," Shiro Nakamura, Nissan Motor Co.'s chief creative officer, said at the show. "They don't know the name of the brand; they don't know the quality, the performance. So visual communication is most important. In the first encounter, you judge visually."
Japan's premium players want a killer first impression because China is soon to surpass the U.S. as the biggest luxury market.
China's premium market will reach about 1.7 million sales this year, compared with about 2 million in the U.S., predicted Infiniti President Roland Krueger. But the Japanese-brand share is still tiny.