Who’s to blame for Infiniti today?

In the mid to late part of the 2000s, Infiniti was building interesting and entertaining vehicles. These machines became their own sort of sub-brands with proper enthusiast followings and interest from standard car shoppers as well. Those looking for a premium vehicle that didn’t want to pay full luxury car prices. The G coupe and sedan were fun. The FX was one of the first crossovers that I ever truly enjoyed. And Infiniti even once had a solid flagship in the Q45 sedan. The M models were intriguing, the curvy J30 was unique in a good way, and even the JX35 has been lauded by parents as being very well thought out with respect to hauling a family around (and still is, in QX60 guise). But today, the brand feels rudderless and it seems pretty clear as to where this all started.

Back in 2012, automotive executive Johan DeNysschen was tapped to helm the brand. His plan quickly involved ditching the brand equity built up by both the G and FX models, moving the headquarters to Hong Kong, and posting an ambitious plan to turn Infiniti into a 500k-units-per-year luxury automaker. That last bit didn’t happen and DeNysschen lasted just two years at Infiniti before jumping ship to Cadillac. And then basically doing the same thing there, though he insists the brand’s move from Detroit to NYC began before his arrival.

But how is today’s Infiniti a result of what DeNysschen did for two years starting back in 2012? Well, product planning is a long and arduous process that unfolds over the course of years. And when you set stuff in motion, those plans typically have to be followed through to completion or billions of dollars could be lost. We’re talking about powertrain development, body stamping designs, interior infotainment decisions, and so much more. Vehicles being built as new today were conceived of and planned out many years prior.

First Drive: 2022 Infiniti QX55

That’s how we wind up with the Infiniti QX55. The review of which I posted early this morning. It’s a near-luxury crossover coupe that’s lacking in a handful of areas relative to its competition. What feels like an easy thing to fix from our viewpoint is more akin to trying to change the direction of a cross-ocean cargo ship broke free of its moorings. It’s a difficult, slow process. And it also explains why other brands like Acura and Lincoln look so positive at the moment… they’ve been course-correcting for a few years now. Internally, I imagine (and hope) that Infiniti is slipping past the point where it’s shackled to things such as its odd infotainment setup, the decision to stick with CVTs, and poor steering tuning for its steer-by-wire system. I want the brand to succeed as I have fond memories of cars stamped with G and FX badges from days past.

I’m not a proper journalist. I haven’t dug into past interviews, chatted with current or past team members, and done more than some basic research on this. But if I could spend time in a room (preferably a bar) with marketers, PR folks, engineers, and designers, I’d love to hear more about this… and see just how right or how wrong I may be. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but I don’t think I’m that far off.

I will say though, that I have high hopes for the upcoming QX60. I’ve seen the concept and it’s fantastic. If it lands close to this, it could be a hit:

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9 responses to “Who’s to blame for Infiniti today?”

  1. Neight428 Avatar

    The big volume mid-sized two row luxury (or nearly luxury) SUV space is crowded without many models that inspire much of anything. Infiniti has a few of those, like everyone else, and their niche seems to be getting most of the way there on content and underpricing the competition. My wife drove a G35 sedan and a M37 that were great cars. I see a lot of Q50’s on the road, though they are outstanding at nothing, they’re an RWD car with a nice interior and good power for the same price as a high end Accord, get one a year old and you’re paying peanuts. Agree that the QX60 concept looks the business.

    I’m about a month into owning a CPO QX80 myself, but that vehicle is at best a sidebar to overall brand direction. I’d be interested to see how much money they make or lose overall with the brand. I feel like I see a lot of them, but it could just be my perception.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      And less reason to buy the QX80 with the updates to the Armada.

      I always enjoyed the M cars when I spent time with them.

      1. Neight428 Avatar

        I looked at the ’21 Armada and was pretty close to going with one, but a really low mile ’20 QX80 was local and undercut the price significantly. They’re big dumb lineup fillers for the brand, but I like mine.

  2. Maymar Avatar

    I’m sure part of the problem is the increasing prevalence of leasing. While the G35’s appeal might have been “a BMW, but what if it was reliable?”, that only goes so far when the real thing is under warranty as long as the first owner is driving it.

  3. Gdagr8one Avatar

    I own a 2005 Infiniti Q45 and I feel like I’m driving a Rolls Royce. Infiniti just doesn’t make cars like that anymore. And the G37 and Fx35 were legendary and sporty.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    There’s an English language Equus forum I am a part of and what is really obvious with it, is its diversity. There are just so many people with so many different backgrounds and occupations who drive this “cheap luxury”-concept that got even cheaper when used. Infinity should occupy the same space. As long as they copy, and copy well, at a low price, I believe they are doing their thing just fine. A bit like Mitsubishi in the US; a new car without much fuss, Infinity is a new, nice car, without getting too loud about it.

  5. outback_ute Avatar

    Never made an impact here and died without a whimper

  6. caltemus Avatar

    Have you considered the large change in leadership that happened with the ousting of Carlos Ghosn? He seemed to at least have a clear direction he was aiming the ship, even if it was a race to the high-volume rental-sales-powered bottom.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      I’d argue he sowed the seeds of its demise with typical euro manufacturer short-termism of rationalization and “lets make everything premium” without showing proper care for the heritage as a long term asset. This makes sense when you remember the Q35 is a rebadged R35 Skyline. Ghosn severed the link between “Skyline” and “GT-R” and tried to make GT-R it’s own premium Porsche level model, but has really failed there as the R35 has been left fester, stuck on the same platform while Infiniti moves on. It’s future is uncertain.

      At the same time, infiniti never really had a convincing halo model. Had the Skyline/GT-R link been maintained. GT-R could have been Infinitis M division, utilizing the nameplate on not just one car. The GT-R would have had a better business case when you could spawn a 4 door variant to target the M5s and stuff.

      He was just an axe man and had no understanding of JDM heritage, something a lot of Europeans would have been dismissive of, but nowadays is absolutely flavour of the moment, but largely squandered.