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Infiniti planning new global flagship model

Wed, 16 Oct 2013

Infiniti is planning a flagship, sporty four-door coupe in the mold of the Porsche Panamera as the joint flagship of its expanding range.

The sweeping-looking four-door will take its styling inspiration from the Infiniti Essence concept penned by design chief Shiro Nakamura and first shown at the Geneva motor show in 2009.

The new car is part of Infiniti's ambitious plan to become a serious global luxury brand by carving out 10 percent of that market, equivalent to about 500K sales by 2020 and backed up by a significantly expanded model range and huge investment from parent Nissan.

One estimate puts the cost of the total plan at $10 billion -- $1billion a year through 2020 -- enough to add a further five models to Infiniti's range while significantly overhauling the existing vehicles.

The plan is being backed-up by Infiniti's "title" sponsorship of Red Bull Racing, which is pivotal to spreading awareness of Infiniti around the globe.

Avoiding head-on conflict with the established German and British players in the luxury market, Infiniti's plan is built around a mix of sporty-focused saloon, coupe and soft-road models, each styled with panache and powered by significantly electrified hybrid powertrains.

"We can't just take on the opposition directly; we have to bring our own unique flavor to the global market," says new Infiniti boss Johann de Nysschen, who last year left a comfortable job running Audi North America to launch Infiniti on the global stage.

The desire to be different is the inspiration for the four-door flagship.

"We won't do a Merc S-Class or that type of car. We have had that before," says Nissan/Infiniti VP Andy Palmer. "We want a flagship car that's appealing and different."

Read our interview with Nissan/Infiniti VP Andy Palmer here.

Nakamura's team is understood to be working around the dimensions and detailing of the Essence concept, while stretching its proportions and roofline to accommodate a roomier rear cabin and extra pair of doors.

The Infiniti Essence concept would need to be lengthened to accommodate four doors and rear room.

The dominant styling feature is likely to be a sweeping, fastback roofline.

The launch date isn't yet confirmed, but a date around 2017/18 is being discussed.

There's a possibility that it will be based on the latest Mercedes-Benz MRA -- modular rear-drive architecture -- that will underpin C-, E- and S-class models, just as the new Q30 is based on Mercedes' latest MFA -- modular front-drive architecture -- under the latest A-class hatchback.

Later in the decade, Infiniti's plan calls for the Essence four-door to be joined by a mid-engined two-seater powered by a high-tech hybrid powertrain and inspired by the Emerg-E concept first revealed at the Goodwood Festival in 2011.

The production Emerg-E is conceived as a supercar, but appointed with a luxury cabin, more in the mold of a Jaguar or Aston Martin than a Ferrari.

"We don't want to get too far away from the center-of-gravity of the brand," says Palmer.

"We have the halo car in the plan, but it is not signed off yet. The sales of saloons like the Q50 and SUVs like the QX60 will have to be going well and then I can go to our approval committee," says Palmer.

Both cars will be considered flagships -- one for the sedan range and the other for Infiniti's sportier range of cars.

This marks a significant about-turn in Infiniti's current strategy, which places two SUVs at the head of its range — the imposing US-only QX80 4x4 and the sportier FX off-road coupe.

The sportier side of Infiniti's range is likely to emphasized with more "Sebastian Vettel" branding that has appeared on the FX soft-roader.

Vettel is said to have advised a wholesale revamp of the FX's chassis and performance, but was held back by production practicalities.

A new sports sub-brand may also evolve to reflect the Red Bull links, although Palmer says exactly how that will work on the cars has yet to be finalized.

"There's a desire by some people internally to make the next Nissan GT-R and 370Z Infiniti models, but that would be wrong for the brand," said Palmer.

By Julian Rendell