Infiniti QX80 redesign will shine as the center of brand makeover

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TOKYO — Infiniti is preparing a dramatic brand makeover to jump-start the struggling Japanese premium player for a new era of growth and a belated leap into the battery-electric race.

Outlining the plan publicly for the first time, Infiniti Chairman Peyman Kargar told Automotive News the campaign will kick off in this fiscal year and develop a more consistent and sophisticated brand image.

The plans include a new look for Infiniti dealerships, a new design language for its vehicles and a flurry of accents to impress customers, such as a unique Infiniti scent and signature sound.

The push will center on the upcoming launch of the redesigned QX80 large SUV, which gets big luxury upgrades to assert its role as the flagship of Nissan Motor Co.’s premium brand.

The campaign is part of a three-phase company transformation that Nissan Motor Co. CEO Makoto Uchida tasked Kargar with undertaking when Kargar was appointed Infiniti’s global brand boss in June 2020.

The first stage focused on recovery and stabilization and wrapped up in March with record profitability for the Infiniti business on a global level, Kargar said. Infiniti has now entered phase two, which centers on the brand renewal and expansion. The project will run through March 31, 2026.

Kargar, who until now has not spoken publicly about his three-step business plan, said the brand revamp will reignite steady growth for Infiniti after two years of significant sales contraction.

It will also set the stage for electrification and possibly entry into new segments.

“We have a healthy base today, and we are ready for more growth,” Kargar told Automotive News. “We are going to grow from this year, and year after year.”

Kargar declined to discuss his sales targets, saying only that he wants steady, sustainable growth. Chasing volume, he said, is what initially tipped Infiniti into trouble with a depleted product line and tumbling turnover.

The brand was then throttled by the COVID-19 outbreak and the global semiconductor shortage.

Its global sales plunged 55 percent to 84,830 vehicles last year, from 188,990 in 2019 before the pandemic. U.S. sales, the bulk of total volume, fell by half to 58,553 vehicles over that period.

“There is a need to be consistent and sustainable in the future,” the chairman said.

Kargar’s turnaround is the latest attempt to fire up Nissan’s premium marque.

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn had set a goal for Infiniti to account for 10 percent of the industry’s global luxury market, racking up annual sales of 500,000 vehicles. At one point, the plan called for Infiniti to be a pioneer in luxury electric vehicles, getting an EV based on the Nissan Leaf on sale in 2014. That never happened.

Instead, Infiniti’s global volume peaked at 249,000 vehicles in 2018, and its first dedicated electric vehicle, to be made at Nissan’s plant in Canton, Miss., now won’t arrive until 2025.

Phase three of the midterm strategy begins in the fiscal year starting April 2026. It will focus on building an electrified portfolio and considering new segments.

Infiniti wants a majority of its worldwide sales to come from full battery- electrics in 2030. An entry-level crossover is one possibility for a new model type, Kargar said. Dealers say a two-row coupe-style crossover, in the size range of the QX60, is also on the drawing board.

But first, Infiniti must get through phase two.

Over the next four years, Kargar says, Infiniti will focus on rebooting the brand image, renewing products and readying for electrification.

The brand update will be unveiled in full toward the end of this fiscal year, ending March 31, 2023. It will include a styling update for a “new face” on upcoming models.

Also on tap is a new “dealership identity” for retail facilities. Kargar says this will only be a recommendation for future build-outs, not a remodeling imposed on existing stores.

Finally, it will include branding of touch points for a sensory connection to Infiniti, such as a brand scent for showrooms and galleries. Another example is a sound signature — a form of sonic branding — that will sound on Infiniti apps, the website or call centers.

“We are going to have a full package of what Infiniti is as a brand,” Kargar said. “We are going to make this coherent and consistent in all aspects on every touch point with the brand.”

The effort begins with the next-generation QX80, which could land in late 2023 or early 2024. Infiniti will preview the redesign with a near-production concept QX80 Monograph this fiscal year that embodies the new branding strategy. Expect a bigger profile for Infiniti’s biggest vehicle.

“This car will be the flagship of the company,” Kargar noted of the SUV, which currently comes with a 5.6-liter V-8.

Infiniti is ramping up the premium performance specs on the new QX80 to further distance the vehicle from the Nissan Armada, said a person familiar with the product planning. The goal is to raise awareness of the QX80 and make it a stronger contender in the luxury SUV segment against rivals such as the Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX or Land Rover Range Rover.

In some ways, the QX80 has weathered the recent market turmoil better than the rest of the brand. While Infiniti’s total U.S. sales fell by half from 2019 to 2021, the QX80 lost only 34 percent — although overall volume is small, at just 12,572 for all of last year.

The third-generation QX80 will be the first model with the new design language, inside and out.

Finally, the coming phase of Infiniti’s transformation will prepare it for electrification. Infiniti will start down that road with an all-electric sedan arriving in 2025.

That EV will be the first renewal of the lineup’s sedan offerings and succeed the long-in-the-tooth Q50.

The Q50, introduced in 2013, is currently Infiniti’s only four-door car, after the discontinuation of the top-tier Q70. An all-electric crossover may also arrive shortly after.

Phase two also will see Infiniti renew other existing nameplates and deploy them to new markets. The QX50 can expect a freshen.

The QX55 crossover is being added to Mexico and China, while the QX60 crossover is being introduced to Mexico and the Middle East.

“The dealers are happy. But their question is whether we are going to continue in this healthy way in the future,” Kargar said. “And that’s exactly what we are going to do.”

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