As I set out on a beautiful, early Spring morning for the winding open roads north of Los Angeles, my mind turns back to the frigid cold morning, just a wee bit more than 20 years before, when Nissan formally pulled the wraps off its new luxury brand, Infiniti.
The event overlapped the similar announcement, at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show by Toyota, which used the well-attended show to introduce its own luxury marque, Lexus. The similarities continued from there. Both brands would come to market with a pair of new products: a small and reasonably affordable “entry-luxury” sedan, and a high-line saloon car aimed directly at the European makers, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz that had long dominated the upscale automotive market.
But those nearly identical debuts soon diverged, Lexus quickly becoming one of the most powerful players in the luxury market — indeed, it has been the segment’s best-seller, here in the U.S. for most of the decade – while Infiniti all but vanished from popular perception. Indeed, in the late 1990s when parent Nissan was struggling for its very survival, it gave serious consideration to killing off the moribund brand.
CEO Carlos Ghosn ultimately relented, and his renewed focus on product has slowly begun to pay off. Though Infiniti remains an also-ran in the luxury segment, it’s slowly — belatedly — gaining traction. It’s in the midst of a global product roll-out, one that gained significant notoriety during the recent Geneva Motor Show, thanks to the unveiling of the Essence concept car, judged by many in the media to be the Swiss show’s most striking introduction. (more…)