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Infiniti Tries to Steer a New Course

New steer-by-wire system just the first step for Japanese luxury maker.

by on Aug.05, 2013

The design of the new Infiniti Q50 was strongly influenced by the maker's Essence concept vehicle.

With the launch of its new Q50 sedan, Infiniti is quite literally steering a new course as it tries to navigate out of the second-tier of luxury brands and take on better-known high-line marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.

The Q50 replaces the old Infiniti G series and initiates an all-new alphanumeric naming strategy. It also introduces the world’s first steer-by-wire technology, among a variety of other high-tech features being added to the new sedan.

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But whether potential buyers take to the new Direct Adaptive Steering system remains to be seen, and analysts warn that Infiniti risks serious confusion as it rebrands existing models to conform to the new nomenclature – something that has caused serious problems for Honda’s Acura and Ford’s Lincoln when they also abandoned more familiar model names.

“We know we’ll face challenges in the short-term but there are tremendous opportunities in the long-term,” said Robb Simmons, Infiniti’s senior marketing manager, during a media preview of the new Q50 line.

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Milestones: 20 Years of the Infiniti Luxury Brand

Nissan's “rocks and trees” marque along with Lexus and Acura established upscale Japanese cars.

by on Nov.12, 2009

Twenty years ago, Infiniti opened for business in the U.S. with 51 dealers and two models sharing the decidedly different looking showroom based on a Japanese Zen-like atmosphere that emphasized textures and materials and subdued colors.

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Even though the V8 powered Q45 was a competitive car, sales were slow.

Hence, the “rocks and trees” label that journalists used as shorthand for the new, unusual marketing approach.

The dealerships did have a different feel to them — with a reception desk, open offices and an emphasis on sales and customer service – that  in retrospect, they foreshadowed luxury-retailing concepts that prevail today.

However at the time, rocks and trees detracted from establishing the creditability of the new products, the very core of establishing creditability.

The Infiniti brand has since expanded to the mid-east, Russia and China, 35 nations in all, but in its home Japanese market the cars are still sold as Nissan models.

Infiniti, as were competing Lexus and Acura luxury brands from Toyota and Honda, was actually the product of “voluntary restraints” on Japanese exports to the U.S. market during the 1980s.

The flagship Infiniti Q45 – a huge, V8-powered rear-wheel drive sedan with four-wheel steering was successful with reviewers, including this one. The sales problem, I opine, was that unlike the Lexus LS 400, Infiniti did not just clone a Mercedes-Benz.

The vast majority of the buyers were looking for a bargain Benz, with Japanese quality, which the $35,000 Lexus LS 400 readily provided. So, even though Infiniti was a competitive car, sales were slow. The Lexus surged ahead.

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