In the mid to late part of the 2000s, Infiniti was building interesting and entertaining vehicles. These machines became their own sort of sub-brands with proper enthusiast followings and interest from standard car shoppers as well. Those looking for a premium vehicle that didn’t want to pay full luxury car prices. The G coupe and sedan were fun. The FX was one of the first crossovers that I ever truly enjoyed. And Infiniti even once had a solid flagship in the Q45 sedan. The M models were intriguing, the curvy J30 was unique in a good way, and even the JX35 has been lauded by parents as being very well thought out with respect to hauling a family around (and still is, in QX60 guise). But today, the brand feels rudderless and it seems pretty clear as to where this all started.
Back in 2012, automotive executive Johan DeNysschen was tapped to helm the brand. His plan quickly involved ditching the brand equity built up by both the G and FX models, moving the headquarters to Hong Kong, and posting an ambitious plan to turn Infiniti into a 500k-units-per-year luxury automaker. That last bit didn’t happen and DeNysschen lasted just two years at Infiniti before jumping ship to Cadillac. And then basically doing the same thing there, though he insists the brand’s move from Detroit to NYC began before his arrival.
But how is today’s Infiniti a result of what DeNysschen did for two years starting back in 2012? Well, product planning is a long and arduous process that unfolds over the course of years. And when you set stuff in motion, those plans typically have to be followed through to completion or billions of dollars could be lost. We’re talking about powertrain development, body stamping designs, interior infotainment decisions, and so much more. Vehicles being built as new today were conceived of and planned out many years prior.
That’s how we wind up with the Infiniti QX55. The review of which I posted early this morning. It’s a near-luxury crossover coupe that’s lacking in a handful of areas relative to its competition. What feels like an easy thing to fix from our viewpoint is more akin to trying to change the direction of a cross-ocean cargo ship broke free of its moorings. It’s a difficult, slow process. And it also explains why other brands like Acura and Lincoln look so positive at the moment… they’ve been course-correcting for a few years now. Internally, I imagine (and hope) that Infiniti is slipping past the point where it’s shackled to things such as its odd infotainment setup, the decision to stick with CVTs, and poor steering tuning for its steer-by-wire system. I want the brand to succeed as I have fond memories of cars stamped with G and FX badges from days past.
I’m not a proper journalist. I haven’t dug into past interviews, chatted with current or past team members, and done more than some basic research on this. But if I could spend time in a room (preferably a bar) with marketers, PR folks, engineers, and designers, I’d love to hear more about this… and see just how right or how wrong I may be. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but I don’t think I’m that far off.
According to traffic reports from KBB it never recovered from the model name changes. People couldn’t figure out what the new names meant, so they gave up and left the brand. Car companies throw brand equity away far too easily (I’m looking at you, Cadillac…).
— karlbrauer (@karlbrauer) March 23, 2021
I will say though, that I have high hopes for the upcoming QX60. I’ve seen the concept and it’s fantastic. If it lands close to this, it could be a hit: