Infiniti QX80 to spearhead new direction for Nissan's luxury brand

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Infiniti has had a tumultuous time in the last few years. However, a new plan is under way to revive Nissan's luxury marque, and to give it some much-needed direction. Now, Infiniti chairman Peyman Kargar has detailed his plans for the first time, and revealed that the QX80 will be at the vanguard of this new push.

Left to languish under former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's quest for market share at the cost of all else, Infiniti's lineup failed to receive the necessary updates in several hotly contested segments. In a time when the luxury brands have seen record profits, Infiniti has instead seen its sales plummet.

In 2018 the brand was among the first to announce a date by which it would "go electric." That was taken by many to mean solely electric or hybrid vehicles after 2021, but that time has come and gone. Infiniti missed its own deadline for a first EV model last year, and sales have nosedived by more than 50 percent since 2019 (117,708 in U.S. sales in 2019, versus 58,553 in 2021). Part of that is due to the  pandemic and resulting semiconductor shortage that's plagued the entire industry, but there's no doubt that the brand is seldom uttered in the same breath as Mercedes, BMW, Lexus or Audi.

Speaking with Automotive News, Kargar outlined a three-phase plan to get Infiniti back on its feet. The first phase, focusing on restructuring and recovery, was just completed in March. Infiniti has now turned record profits globally, Kargar said.

Phase two has now begun and will play out through March 2026. By this time next year, designers will have locked in a new corporate face to take over on all new models. Leading the charge with that identity will be a new QX80 that arrives in late 2023 or early 2024.

Kargar didn't disclose details, but called it the future flagship of the marque. It will have enhanced performance specs to distance itself from the Nissan Armada on which it is based. Infiniti hopes that the QX will be seen as a competitor against the likes of the Cadillac Escalade Lexus LX, and Range Rover. Despite riding on the same platform as the Patrol — a Land Cruiser-like body-on-frame SUV — since 2010, the QX has not fallen in sales as much as other models.

Part of the rebranding also includes a unification of Infiniti's identity. Kargar spoke of a new dealership look and feel, which includes a "brand scent" for showrooms and a "sound signature" that will tie in apps, websites, and call centers. Consistent branding is a hallmark of luxury companies, but the article notes that the dealership revamp will only apply to new showrooms and existing ones will not be required to remodel.

Phase three of the plan will see expanded electrification and new models. The article mentions an all-electric sedan to replace the Q50 debuting in 2025, followed by a BEV crossover. Electrification may also bring an entry-level crossover and a "coupe"-style fastback crossover about the size of the QX60.

Most importantly, the new plan is not strictly about sales figures. Seemingly a rebuff of Ghosn's philosophy, Kargar says he sees "steady, sustainable growth" as a priority. He puts the blame for Infiniti's current product stagnation squarely on pursuing market share.

The emphasis on product over volume is a good sign that Infiniti (and Nissan) has turned a corner. Going all out for market share has rarely worked out for auto companies (see GM, Toyota). Cohesion in branding is a good start, but it's the absolute minimum a luxury brand should aspire to. A unique character, the more difficult to replicate or manufacture the better, is also key to setting oneself apart. With the current trend of go-anywhere, truly off-road capable SUVs showing no signs of abatement, the QX80 is a smart choice for flagship. In many parts of the world variants of the Patrol rival the Land Cruiser in ability and cachet. Hopefully, the QX isn't simply a dumbed down badge swap for American consumers.

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