To Infiniti and Beyond - Nissan's Luxury Brand

March 18 2019, Kelowna Infiniti

To Infiniti and Beyond - Nissan's Luxury Brand

In 1985, a group of executives and engineers at Nissan started a secret think tank – the Horizon Task Force. They realized that while Nissan was a successful and respected brand, they had no vehicles that could be considered to be luxury automobiles. They had a goal – to develop a new luxury car brand that could compete with and beat the best European and American luxury brands.

Infiniti and Nissan - Infiniti Logo

Two years later, in 1987, they had an identity. The name would be Infiniti, and the logo would represent a road disappearing into infinity, and Mt. Fuji, a sacred landmark in Japan. Just two years later, on Nov 8, 1989, Infiniti started to sell cars in North America. At around the same time, Toyota and Honda both introduced their own luxury car brands – Lexus and Acura.

Everything was different about Infiniti, including their commercials. When they first started to air, they didn’t even show any vehicles – just majestic scenery from nature – a flock of geese and a sunlight dappled lake. While they didn’t reveal much about the new vehicles, they certainly caught the attention of the public – but not necessarily in a positive way.

The Q45 was the first vehicle introduced by Infiniti. It was designed by famed designer Shunji Yamanaka. With its four wheel steering and active suspension, the Q45 was radically different than anything Nissan had built before. It was designed to compete against BMW’s 7 Series, the Mercedes Benz S-Class, the Jaguar XJ, and the Cadillac Fleetwood. The Q45 was not merely a rebadged Nissan built for the Japanese market – it was completely designed and engineered from the ground up. One of the striking features of the Q45 was the lack of a grill, something that was found on pretty much every other car up to that point. With advancements in cooling technology, a massive air intake was no longer required.

The Q45 was much more than just an automobile. From its ornate hood badge to the exterior door handles designed to look like water smoothed stones, the Q45 was a work of art. Yamanaka forgo faux wood trim, the hallmark of other luxury cars. Hard surfaces were covered in kokon insuta – black lacquer mixed with gold flakes. White leather seats were an available option, a big departure from traditionally black interiors. A 24 carat gold key was also an available option – for an extra $5200. Controls were simple and intuitive. If you looked in the glovebox, you would find a card personally signed by a quality assurance engineer. Now that’s a luxurious touch.

The performance of the Q45 belied its sophisticated appearance. With 300+ horsepower, the Q45 got up to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and topped out at 153 mph. Handling was effortless, and was even better with available Active Suspension.

Infiniti and Nissan - 1989 Infiniti Q45

1989 Infiniti Q45, the first vehicle sold by Infiniti Dealerships

The Q45 might have a been a bit too far ahead of its time and car buyers didn’t know what to make of it. For the 1994 model year, Infiniti added a chrome grill, faux wood trim, and softer seats to make it more appealing to North American buyers.

Next out of the gate was the two door M30 which arrived in showrooms in 1990. Also available as a convertible, the M30 was sold in Japan as the Nissan Leopard. The M30 was intended to compete against the Lexus SC. However, it was under powered, especially in the convertible form, and was only produced for three years.

Infiniti and Nissan - Infiniti M30

1990 Infiniti M30

Born in Japan, Educated in Europe, available in America. That’s how Infiniti introduced the G20 to the world in 1990. The G20 was an entry level, luxury sports sedan based on the Nissan Primera sold mostly in Europe. Although the G20 was a competent car with its 140 hp, four cylinder inline engine and decent handling, it wasn’t a big success. Infiniti was supposed to be Nissan’s luxury brand, but the G20 was less comfortable and more expensive than some offerings from Nissan, for example the Maxima or the Sentra. The G20 disappeared from the lineup in 1996. After a two year hiatus, it was reintroduced with minor changes. After the 2002 model year, the G20 was replaced by the G35.

Infiniti and Nissan - 1990-1996 Infiniti G20

1990-1996 Infiniti G20

In 1993, the M30 was replaced by the four door, mid luxury J30. The J30 was supposed to compete against the BMW 5 Series, Acura Legend, and Lexus GS, and introduced a whole new class of automobile – the four door coupe. The rear wheel drive J30 was a work of art, or a funny looking car, depending on who you asked. In 1995, the J30 was not a budget car. Sticker price was $38,500 USD. The touring package bumped the price up to $40,550. While the 210 HP J30 was a marked improvement over the M30 in terms of performance and luxury, the unusual styling and small interior wasn’t a hit with consumers. The J30 was a mid size car with the interior room of a sub-compact thanks to the sloping roof line and rear end. The J30 was replaced by the I Series in 1996, and the G35 in 2002.

Infiniti and Nissan - Infiniti J30

Infiniti J30

The I30 appeared as a replacement for the J30 in 1996. Known as the Cefiro (aka A32) in Japan, the I30 was a four door, mid-level sedan. It and the entry level G20 were sold in North America until the G35 appeared for the 2003 model year. If you think the I30 looks a lot like a Maxima, you’d be correct. The A32 Cefiro was exported to some countries with Maxima badging.

Infiniti and Nissan - Infiniti I30

Infiniti I30

Infiniti entered the SUV market in a big way in 1997 with the introduction of the luxurious, Pathfinder based QX4. The mid 90’s was the era of SUVs that could really be used offroad. Nissan had a history of building tough four wheel drive vehicles like the Patrol, the Pathfinder, or their Hardbody trucks. The QX4 was appointed with features that made it comfortable and luxurious like a Range Rover, but at a fraction of the price. The QX4 was very popular with consumers, however, in 2003, it was replaced by the FX 35/45 and the QX56.

Infiniti and Nissan - 1999 Infiniti QX4

1999 Infiniti QX4

The New Era

By the end of the 1990’s, Infiniti was on the verge of disappearing. Despite making some great cars, they were losing the war with Lexus and Acura. Sales continued to be a bit disappointing and the Japanese economy was reeling from the Asset Price Bubble. In response, Nissan dedicated itself to getting back to its original goal of creating a new generation of sporty, powerful luxury vehicles.

As part of the new era, Nissan and Renault formed an economic alliance in 1999. Carlos Ghosn, an Executive Vice President at Renault became Chief Operating Officer at Nissan in 1999, President in 2000, and Chief Executive Officer in 2001. Under Ghosn’s “Nissan Revival Plan,” Nissan returned to profitability and focused on re-defining the Infiniti brand. As part of that program, existing models were updated and several exciting new models were introduced.

The Car That Saved Infiniti

One of them, the Nissan Skyline based G35, got rave reviews in the motoring press. According to Kevin Smith, Editor in Chief at Motor Trend, “the sinuous G35 Sport Coupe carves out its own place at the top of our list – with style, performance, luxury, and value for money.” Car and Driver said that “the G35s are brisk performers — quick on their feet, smooth, mannerly, and well-equipped” and named it their “Car of the Year” in 2003. In 2004, an all wheel drive G35 was introduced to compete with Audi and BMW.

Infiniti and Nissan - 2003 Infinti G35

2003 Infinti G35

2003 also saw the appearance of the FX35 which used the same componentry as the G35, but offered concept car looks and the versatility of a station wagon with all weather capability. While most SUV’s built up to that point looked like trucks, the FX35 looked more like a sports car. It also handled and felt like a sports car.

Infiniti and Nissan - 2003 Infiniti FX35

2003 Infiniti FX35

In 2004, Infiniti unveiled the replacement for the much loved QX4, the Nissan Armada based QX56. The Q56 was big and brawny, and was the perfect vehicle for large, active families. It was designed to compete with the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Lexus LX470.

Infiniti and Nissan - 2004 Infiniti QX56

2004 Infiniti QX56

New Technology

The early 2000’s saw the appearance of some amazing new technology in Infiniti vehicles. In 2004, Lane Departure Warning made the FX even safer by warning drivers that they were unintentionally straying from their lane. In 2007, the world’s first Around View Monitor made it possible for Infiniti drivers to see a virtual 360° view of their surroundings, making parking a breeze. Also in 2007, Infiniti introduced Lane Departure Prevention which prevented the vehicle from unintentionally drifting into a neighboring lane. In 2010, Infiniti safety was enhanced further with the introduction of Blind Spot Intervention. It selectively applied braking if it sensed that you were about to drift into an object in one of your blind spots. In 2012, backing up got safer with the addition of Backup Collision Intervention. It sent a warning and applied the brakes to prevent a collision while reversing. In 2014, driving got more personal with Direct Adaptive Steering. This feature allowed drivers to personalize their vehicle’s steering characteristics to suit their individual taste.

New Names

If you haven’t been in an Infiniti showroom for a few years, you’ll immediately notice that the G’s, M’s, FX’s, and J’s are gone from Infiniti model names. In 2013, the naming convention was changed to Q for sedans and coupes, and QX for crossovers and SUV’s. The old two digit number that indicated engine displacement was replaced by two digits used to indicate the vehicle’s position in the model hierarchy. The Q70 is now the top of the line car, and the QX80 is the top rung SUV.

Infiniti and Nissan - 2018 Infiniti Q60 3.0T Red Sport 400

2018 Infiniti Q60 3.0T Red Sport 400

Car companies come and go, but since it’s inception in 1985, Infiniti has continued to grow and innovate, and solidify its place in the automotive market. With a goal to compete successfully against the best luxury cars the world has to offer, Infiniti has achieved that distinction in a remarkably short time. Always evolving, the current Infiniti lineup features stylistically beautiful, and mechanically advanced vehicles for the most discerning drivers.

If you’re looking for a prestige sedan or SUV, come see us at Kelowna Infiniti. If you’re the kind of driver who likes the best of everything but wants to follow a different path than everyone else, come in and view our excellent selection of new and used Infiniti vehicles.

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