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.
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.