by: Larz / AZhitman
Peyman Kargar was appointed Chairman of the Infiniti lineup in May 2020. This is my personal commentary in response to his recent interview with Business Insider International two months ago:
Kargar acknowledged the series of mistakes made in the last decade that led to a whopping 50% reduction in sales since 2017. Last year Infiniti sold just 79,000 units for the entire year. Ford sells more F-series pickups that that every month. Even Buick managed 162,000 units last year. Buick, folks.
Those mistakes are well-known to those of us who follow the brand closely, but in layman’s terms, the largest of these was the clumsy and poorly-executed rebadging of the Infiniti lineup, which left an entire generation of buyers confused as to what is what. Overlaps across model years, and a refusal to adhere to a tried-and-true nomenclature of [series + displacement] for the naming structure, served only to confuse buyers and enthusiasts. As an Infiniti fan since 1989, and owner of several Infiniti cars, even I admit I have to look up certain models to be reminded of what platform is being discussed and which ones have silently been axed.
Kargar acknowledged that Infiniti drifted away from its initial aim to be a Japanese competitor to German performance / luxury vehicles and inexplicably tended toward a price / value brand like a well-equipped Honda. Contradictory press announcements proclaiming Infiniti would go full electric (and soon after rescinding that position) didn’t help reinforce prospective consumers’ faith in the brand much. Countless concepts and “show cars” that never made production made most of us dismissive, as Infiniti irritatingly became “the boy who cried wolf” one too many times.
Kargar alleged that he wants to rectify these issues with a new / old mission – Basically, getting back to the original ideas that started the Infiniti brand. He says that value and price is NOT what a premium luxury brand should be associated with. His aim is to go back to Infiniti’s roots and distinguish itself from its Nissan parent by being superior in driving dynamics, material quality, performance, and design.
However, much as we’ve seen in the past from Infiniti, sometimes those at the helm of the ship can get far too absorbed in their own internal echo chamber, and here’s an example: Kargar called the QX55 a step back to the glory days of the high powered, cutting-edge, dynamic FX series (which the FX definitely was). I actually had to Google QX55 to figure what the hell it was, which suggests to me just how ineptly Infiniti has handled their marketing here in the US. The problem with this comparison is that the QX55 is just another 5-door crossover coupe like Mercedes GLC or the Audi A5 sportback, and the interior is nowhere near the quality of either of those cars. Poor example, Mr. Kargar.
See, unfortunately, the QX55 still has a lackluster CVT gear box, the perplexing double screen with outdated navigation and user interface, and KIA-quality materials. Kargar indicated he’d like to see Infiniti upgrade hardware and software to elevate Infiniti back into a brand with a unique platform of high quality materials, driving dynamics and its own brand image to provide an experience that is worth the extra price. Easier said than done, sir.
Let’s go back to Kargar’s stated “plan” to get back to what made Infiniti a brand to be reckoned with. Infiniti’s own press releases stated, “As INFINITI reinvents itself and embarks on what it calls a “product renaissance…” OK, so the idea of returning to prestige and distinguishing the brand from Nissan sounds like a recipe for success, right? Sure it does. HOWEVER – and this is a HUGE however – as recently as Jun 29, 2020 (two months AFTER Kargar was appointed Chairman, mind you), Forbes reported that Infiniti was “planning to ditch its luxury heritage.” The new Infiniti strategy was allegedly to be “Nissan-Plus.” Basically, they explained that Infiniti’s new position is an upmarket Nissan, not a Mercedes or Lexus competitor.
So, here’s the problem: Within the span of less than a year, the company brass has done a 180-degree turnaround? Is it any wonder that those of us in the know are simply rolling our eyes at this point? Do these people not talk to each other before they talk to the automotive press?
Conveniently, Kargar didn’t speak about where the money will come from to accomplish this, and considering Nissan’s current financial position, it begs the question, “OK, how?” Nor did Kargar provide any timeline or any specifics about models in development stages, which leads any real automotive enthusiast to suspect this is just more internal navel-gazing being floated as policy.
This whole situation has an all-too-familiar sound to those of us who have been Infiniti enthusiasts since 1989. Likewise, Kargar’s statement: “There is a lot of work to be done here” simply reeks of empty corporate-level babbling. Infiniti’s bread-and-butter car, the Q50, despite being long in the tooth, garnered the following review from Motor Trend: “Underwhelming driving experience, poor efficiency, and poor value rating.” Ever-optimistic, despite being disappointed more often than not, we can only hope that this time, the “lot of work to be done” actually will happen.
Karger was not asked about, and did not volunteer any information, on future sedan models. Seems Infiniti, like most car makers, is still focused on the crossover / SUV market.
Here’s what we DO know, without a doubt: The brand is damaged, and badly so. For those of you at Nissan reading this, you know full well that we’ve been absolutely nothing if not 100% honest with our readers for almost 20 years now. We’re not a fan club, we’re a resource, and we’ve always called a spade a spade, even when it’s been frowned upon. This isn’t an enthusiasm problem, this is a pattern of inexcusably terrible decision-making and wholesale dismissal of good, sound automotive development and marketing. You guys get paid to build and market world-class cars. We get paid (actually, we don’t) to report, transparently and factually, what’s going on from an enthusiast standpoint. Edmunds and Car & Driver might fawn over every move you make, but we don’t – and we don’t forget when we’re misled.
If we look back at Infiniti’s historical high points, we can see that the cars and crossovers that really made a mark for the brand ALL had something special, something unique, and something more to offer the consumer. Recall if you will: The first-gen Q45 was a world-changing car, from active suspension, to art-deco styling cues, to near-perfect ergonomics and a seriously-underrated screaming 4.5-liter V8. It put Lexus and Acura on notice. The Fuga-based M45 of 2003-04? Understated brilliance, harkening back to the muscle cars of the 70s, with sufficient luxury to remind owners that they’re driving an upscale Japanese sedan. The FX45? Again, an absolute hot rod, disguised as a family crossover, the FX could embarrass a lot of sports cars and still get Junior to soccer practice in style. Even the latest iteration of the M56 and the Q60 Red Sport gave us a glimmer of hope that someone, somewhere in Infiniti Corporate was paying attention.
Time will tell, of course… but considering we’ve seen two completely opposing “official” game plans within the span of less than a year coming directly from Infiniti HQ, the outlook is not favorable.