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Infiniti goes back to the Q

Mon, 17 Dec 2012

Infiniti will completely rename its product portfolio next summer, returning to the letter “Q” from the brand's early history for every car, and “QX” for every Infiniti crossover and SUV.

The company is undertaking the change to prepare for a broader array of future products around the world, says Johan de Nysschen, worldwide president of the brand.

Infiniti's current lineup of sedans will become the Q50, Q60 and Q70.

De Nysschen came to Infiniti in July of this year from the top post at competitor Audi of America with a mission to boost Infiniti up from its Tier 2 status among global luxury brands. Audi itself undertook an extensive worldwide renaming campaign in 1994.

“There is risk associated with everything, but we feel quite comfortable about doing it,” de Nysschen said in a phone interview with Automotive News from Infiniti's Hong Kong headquarters.

He said the moment is right to bring new order to its names, as it steps up exports to global markets and introduces a redesigned G sedan, Infiniti's highest volume product.

That car will be unveiled next month at the Detroit auto show and will go on sale at U.S. dealerships next July under the new name “Q50.”

All of Infiniti's other products will follow under the new naming structure over the course of about eight weeks with their 2014-model introductions.

The M sedan will become the Q70, and the current G37 coupe and convertible will become the Q60.

Infiniti's EX crossover will become the QX50 and the FX crossover will change to the QX70. The current full-sized QX56 SUV, with its 5.6-liter V8, will become the QX80.

Perhaps most delicate of the changeovers will be the brand's JX crossover, which was introduced this year. The JX is being heavily advertised in the U.S. market and has become a bright success for Infiniti dealers, becoming its second highest selling model after the G.

Starting next year, the JX will become the QX60.

As an alternative, Infiniti also considered renaming all of its cars with a “J” and all of its crossovers “JX.”

“Q is an asset that is already very strongly associated with Infiniti,” he said. “It harks back to Infiniti's first product, the Q45, so it certainly has heritage for us.”

He said that consumer research in markets around the world found a favorable reaction to the Q designation. In the United States, which was Infiniti's sole world market for nearly two decades, research found that consumers still see a strong association between the brand and the letter Q. Consumers in Europe associate the Q designation with “a high-performance car with subtle styling,” de Nysschen said.

“You know, unless you're really familiar with the Infiniti lineup, who knows whether a JX fits above an EX or an FX, and where does the QX fit in?” the executive admitted. With the new system, he said, “customers will be able to figure out which fits in where.”

The new system breaks with Infiniti's longstanding practice of including engine displacements in its names to designate a vehicle's place in the portfolio hierarchy, such as its most expensive sedan, the 5.6-liter V8 engine-equipped M56 sedan. That practice is becoming increasingly challenging for an industry that is developing new engine technologies, de Nysschen said.

“All manufacturers will face the need in the future to downsize engines to meet future emissions and fuel consumption compliance requirements,” he said. “We know that consumers don't like to feel that they have to downgrade their car--especially when the technology that will be needed to bring about this new performance and efficiency is going to have to cost more.”

He cited the example of the current G37 sedan, with its 3.7-liter V6. He said it could be possible that there would be a future G with a more expensive high-performance 2.0-liter engine. Under the existing Infiniti naming system, consumers might feel that a “G20” with its lower numeric value is less car for the money than a G37.

De Nysschen said that worldwide Infiniti sales for 2012 will be up by around 10 percent over 2011, reaching approximately 170,000 vehicles. He said the growth has come despite challenging economic conditions in Europe and Japanese-Chinese political troubles in China, which had been one of the brand's fastest growing markets.

In the U.S. market, thanks to new tail wind from the JX, Infiniti sold 107,250 vehicles through the end of November, up 23 percent from the first 11 months of 2011.

He said Infiniti foresees double-digit worldwide growth again in 2013 despite the planned changeover of the product names.

“We need to communicate and explain it to people and also our dealers,” he said. “But it will be a clean change and we don't expect any negative fallout or loss of sales.

“I have experienced this once before in my life,” de Nysschen pointed out, referring to Audi's naming changeover in the 1990s, before he ran the U.S. subsidiary. “Everybody thought the end of the world had arrived. But actually, it went very, very smoothly.”

By Lindsay Chappell- Automotive News