Go back – way back – to the fall of 1989, when Japan’s two biggest automotive manufacturers were about to embark on what was arguably their biggest challenge since first swarming the American market. With the introduction of Toyota’s Lexus and Nissan’s Infiniti, the Japanese would finally – albeit belatedly – take on the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of Mercedes and BMW with luxury entries of their very own. Toyota’s Lexus opted to mimic Mercedes, while Nissan’s Infiniti targeted not so much another automaker – that would have apparently been too ‘commercial’ – but rather, the fragile interface between man, machine and Mother Nature. Lexus, of course, went on to become a huge business success, while Infiniti – it seems – remains challenged by forces only it can see, only it can feel.
How else to explain the announcement this week of plans to rebadge the entire Infiniti lineup, beginning with its volume-segment sedan, at its Detroit introduction next month? This comes less than six months after Johan de Nysschen (you pronounce it; we provide only the correct spelling…) was appointed the president of Infiniti Global Limited on July 1st. Rebadging a nameplate is, of course, a very big deal. And despite some famous instances in which the results were – ahem – perhaps less than optimal, car manufacturers, marketing execs and their agencies continue to plow ahead.
In an open letter to Infiniti ‘fans’ de Nysschen cited a “massive product offensive” as the driver behind the badging decision. “In order to expand our lineup with the fascinating new models we are developing, we must create a more flexible nomenclature philosophy.” With ‘EX’, ‘FX’, ‘JX’, ‘QX’, ‘M’ and ‘G’ already in play, product planners saw a very real need to expand beyond these six monikers and – presumably – either exhaust the English alphabet or go with another mechanism. The chosen path – calling everything a modified variant of ‘Q’ (for cars) or ‘QX’ (for crossovers) – would seem to rival only Acura badging in both inspiration and clarity. Okay, maybe it rivals both Lincoln and Acura in inspiration and clarity.
It was also noted that as the Infiniti brand expands globally, new customers are unfamiliar with the brand (that would seem to go without saying; they are, after all, new customers!) and “struggle” to understand the Infiniti range. Although I’m separated from the showroom by some two decades, I remember that to familiarize new prospects you employed salesmen and commissioned brochures; these two assets remain, as I understand it, fixtures on the contemporary showroom. And that work is now supplemented by what we’ll all remember as the Internet.
Infiniti’s new naming policy rolls out at the 2013 North American International Auto Show, which is often rebadged as simply ‘Detroit’. There, the new replacement for the G37 sedan will be designated Q50. The ‘Q’ recalls Infiniti’s original Q45, introduced to American audiences in the fall of 1989. In reporting by trade publication Automotive News, Mr. de Nysschen noted that Infiniti’s first product “certainly has heritage for us.” As did, you’ll remember, Acura’s Legend. And we all know what became of that…