The marque is not used in Japan and the automaker markets most of equivalent Infiniti models domestically as Nissans: Infiniti G as the Nissan Skyline sedan and coupe, Infiniti M as the Nissan Fuga, Infiniti EX as the Nissan Skylinecrossover, and Infiniti Q45 as the Nissan Cima. The Infiniti FX has no Nissan equivalent and is not sold in Japan. The first generation Infiniti Q45 was sold as the Nissan Infiniti Q45 in Japan.
The Infiniti brand was introduced in the United States in 1989. The marketing strategy was to target the premium vehicle segments in the United States that would not have otherwise fit in with Nissan’s more mainstream image, and partially influenced by the Plaza Accord of 1985. The brand was created around the same time as Japanese rivals Toyota and Honda developed their Lexus and Acura premium brands. The Japanese government imposed voluntary export restraints for the U.S. market, so it was more profitable for automakers to export more expensive cars to the U.S.
The Infiniti marque was launched with two models, the Q45, and the M30. The Q45 was based on the all new second generation JDM Nissan President on a five millimeter shorter wheelbase platform at 2,875 mm (113.2 in). Starting with model year 1992, the wheelbase matched the President’s wheelbase at 2880 mm (113.4 in). The Q45 included a 278 hp (207 kW; 282 PS) V8 engine, four wheel steering, and active suspension system offered on the first generation Q45t. The car’s features would have made it competitive in the full-sized “luxury” segment against the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ and Cadillac Fleetwood.
A second model was introduced in 1990, the 2-door M30, a badge engineered Nissan Leopard. It remained in production for three years as an alternative to the Lexus SC. The powertrain was the VG30E 162 hp (121 kW; 164 PS) engine and an automatic transmission. The M30 coupe was underpowered for its stock weight of 3,333 lb (1,512 kg). The M30 convertible weighed even more, due to the required body and chassis reinforcements. The appearance of the M30 had almost no resemblance to the larger Q45, and the interior was almost completely different.
Infiniti did not offer an mid-luxury sedan to match the first Japanese luxury sedan introduced to North America, the Acura Legend, which was later joined by the Lexus GS. Infiniti’s first offering in the entry-level luxury segment was the Infiniti J30, which had to compete with the revised 1992 Lexus ES which was much more successful than the J30. There were market-driven requests for Nissan to introduce the very successful Nissan Skyline, Nissan Laurel, or the newly created Nissan Cefiroas an alternative to the Lexus ES or the Legend, but Nissan hesitated until 2003 when the Skyline finally arrived in North America as the Infiniti G.
In 1991 Infiniti introduced a third model, the Infiniti G20, based on the Nissan Primera, essentially an upgraded version of the Nissan Sunny with a leather interior package and the SR20DE DOHC 150 bhp (112 kW; 152 PS) engine with multi-port fuel injection for improved performance.
For the 1993 model year, Infiniti introduced a four-door coupé J30 with only one engine option, the 210 hp (157 kW; 213 PS) VG30DE. This engine was from the 222 hp (166 kW; 225 PS)300ZX, the JDM Nissan Cedric, Nissan Gloria and the Nissan Cima, and was the North American version of the third generation JDM Nissan Leopard.
Infiniti sales were slow. The company’s initial campaign aimed to bring about brand awareness with Zen-influenced spots that focused on nature and tranquility, without showing the actual cars. Designers decided not to adorn the interiors with wood accents and chrome brightwork, opting instead for a monochrome appearance focusing on padded leather and vinyl throughout. Some buyers had faux wood appliques added to areas surrounding the center console and around the interior door handles. The only item that had a bright appearance was the centrally installed analog clock in all models, a design that is maintained by the designers.
By the mid-1990s, Infiniti was lagging behind Lexus and Acura in sales. The Q45 had retreated considerably from its focused, taut rendition of a sporty executive sedan, having become a barely recognizable, ponderously handling sedan that earned the nickname “The Japanese Lincoln”. In 1999, Infiniti revived the G20, based on the discontinued JDM Nissan Primera, a compact sport sedan whose production was halted for 1998 in Europe and Japan. The second generation G20 was marketed as a competitor to European entry-level luxury sport sedans, but it now weighed more than the first generation version. Because Infiniti continued to use the SR20DE four-cylinder engine and compact size, it fell short of sales expectations. The G20 was also marketed primarily to the wrong demographic, that being middle-aged professional women, and as such it was not as popular new as its main competition, the similarly priced Acura Integra.
In 1997, Infiniti released the QX4, modifying and adding premium accommodations to the Nissan Pathfinder rather than the larger Nissan Safari. This made Infiniti one of the first makers (apart from SUV specialists, Jeep and Land Rover) to offer a mid-sized luxury-type SUV, predating the release of the Lexus RX 300, Acura MDX and the Mercedes-Benz ML320. The QX4 was released after Acura‘s introduction of the larger SLX (a rebadged Isuzu Trooper) and the Lexus LX (a rebadged Toyota Land Cruiser). Like a traditional SUV, it was based on a truck platform giving it a competitive edge for its off-roading abilities.
Infiniti replaced the J30 mid-sized rear drive sedan with the second-generation JDM Nissan Cefiro, giving it the North American designation I30 in 1996 but, as with the J30 and M30, continued to offer only one under-powered engine: the 193 PS (142 kW; 190 hp) VQ30DE with front wheel drive shared with the Maxima. Infiniti made major changes to the I30’s appearance and performance in 2002, upgrading the engine to the more powerful 231 PS (170 kW; 228 hp) VQ35DE; this inspired a name change to the vehicle, which became the I35. Sales and the brand, bereft of an image or a following, floundered.
By 2000, large Japanese companies were feeling the effect of the Japanese asset price bubble, and the reduced desirability of Infiniti’s led to its facing extinction. The company rededicated itself to developing a dynamic and powerful line-up of sporty luxury cars. Car and Driver reported that Infiniti executives invited members of the motoring press to a meeting where they “swore never again to take their eyes off BMW.” Although this effort began with a completely redesigned Q45flagship for the 2002 model year, it was the G35 that helped improve Infiniti sales in 2003. In Japan, Nissan had a well established reputation with premium level performance sedans after Nissan acquired the Prince Motor Company and integrated theNissan Skyline, Nissan Laurel and Nissan Gloria, originally Prince vehicles, in 1966-1968. A sports sedan replacing its Nissan Primera-based predecessor (the G20), the Nissan Skyline-based G35, was successful after it was voted Motor Trend Car of the Year in 2003.
The release of the sport-tuned FX35/45 crossover that same year piggybacked on the G35’s success. The FX used the same components as the G35 sport coupe and was designed for American tastes. It combined good handling and performance with station wagon-like versatility and all-weather capability. In 2004, Infiniti added an all-wheel drive version of the G35 sports sedan to compete with similar all-wheel drive sports sedans from Audi and BMW. Infiniti also introduced a larger SUV to compete with the Toyota Land Cruiser/Lexus LX470. This was the 2004 Infiniti QX56 based on the U.S. market Nissan Armada.
Nissan Motors President and CEO, Carlos Ghosn, developed a business strategy to break Infiniti away from its Nissan roots. The G35 series helped re-define Infiniti as the “Japanese BMW”,. The M35/M45 garnered acclaim from the automotive press, winning an eight-car comparison test in Car and Driver, and the model was named the best luxury sedan by Consumer Reports. The M45 model featured the same engine as the Q45, and the M45 became the flagship model after the Q45 was discontinued. The Infiniti M (2003–2005) and the Infiniti G (starting in 2003) were known in Japan as the Nissan Gloria and the Nissan Skyline.
For the 2007 model year a redesigned version of the G35 sedan was introduced, followed in 2008 by a new version of the company’s G coupe, the G37. The coupe was first unveiled at the New York International Auto Show. Also released in 2008 was new Infiniti EX35 compact crossover, Infiniti’s entry into the compact luxury crossover market. The EX shared the G35’s 3.5 liter, 306 hp (228 kW), V6 engine.
Carlos Ghosn unveiled Infiniti’s arrival in Europe at the Geneva Motor Show 2008. The official launch was late-2008, and was phased over a two year period across 21 European countries. Four models are offered in Europe: the next generation of the Infiniti FX37 and Infiniti FX50 performance SUV, the Infiniti G37, the Infiniti G37 coupe, and the Infiniti EX37 crossover. Infiniti Europe’s headquarters are based in Rolle, Switzerland.
Carlos Ghosn unveiled the Infiniti M at a hotel in Los Angeles. It shares the VQ37VHR from the Infiniti G, Infiniti EX, and Infiniti FX. Featured are new powertrains: the 5.6 L V8 (VK56VD) with VVEL, Gasoline direct injection, the Nissan-Renault V9X Engine V6 Turbo Diesel (only for Europe), and the newly developed hybrid that will include one electric motor and two clutches to allow the gas engine and electric motor to drive the rear wheels simultaneously. The lithium-ion battery pack will come from the Infiniti Essence.
At the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, Infiniti launched a new powertrain for Europe, with the new V9X Engine engine developed by the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The new engine is used in the Infiniti FX, Infiniti EX, and the new Infiniti M. The new Infiniti M made its European debut at the show.
Nissan announced the return of front-wheel drive to the Infiniti lineup on August 30, 2011 with the release of the Infiniti JX. It will join Toyota‘s Lexus brand in terms of blending front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive vehicles again; since its inception in 1990 Lexus has had front-wheel drive platforms underpinning entry-level vehicles like the Lexus ES and Lexus RX.
As of 2011, the G Series (consisting of the sedan, coupe, and convertible) accounts for 60% of sales. This has been attributed to their SUVs (including crossovers) which have been seen as determinedly aimed at the narrowest of niches, a lost opportunity as SUVs are popular in the U.S. market. In contrast, at archrival Lexus, SUVs contributed half of the sales volume. In 2011, Infiniti sales fell, while other import luxury vehicles were doing well. Furthermore, Infiniti’s performance over practicality emphasis has resulted in it faring poorly among women compared to Acura and Lexus.
Infiniti’s model name designation includes one letter for coupés and sedans (two letters for SUVs) and a number reflecting engine displacement. For example, the QX56 is an SUV featuring a 5.6 L engine. An exception to this was the QX4 SUV, which featured a 3.3 L engine (1997–2000) and later a 3.5 L engine (2001–2003). An “x” following the engine displacement of Infiniti sedans denotes an all wheel drive model (e.g. Infiniti G35x), “s” denotes a sport package, “h” denotes a hybrid model, and a “t” for a Touring model (older models only).
Most Infiniti coupes, sedans and crossovers are based on the Nissan FM platform. The center of the engine is placed behind the front wheels. This placement evens the weight distribution to improve braking, acceleration, and handling. It also reduces the polar moment of inertia. The exceptions are the QX56 full-size SUV that rides on the Nissan F-Alpha platform and the JX crossover that rides on the Nissan D platform.
In 1996, Nissan launched an effort to compete in the Indy Racing League with the Infiniti brand. The engine chosen for the Indy cars was a race variant of the VH engine used the Q45s. The IRL program was quietly wrapped after the 2002 season after only a few wins. The Renault engines powering the Red Bull Racing 2011 F1 challenger was expected to be rebranded as an Infiniti engine, but the sponsorship deal did not extend to engine re-branding. Infiniti has signed Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel as its first global ambassador