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What’s the real point of owning Infiniti?

9 July 2012


Infinite boldness – a look at Nissan’s luxury arm’s strategy



As we’ve already mentioned, Infiniti intends to compete locally (as, indeed, it does all over the world) with manufacturers of luxury vehicles such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
Of course, the company’s most obvious competition would seem to be Lexus, but Infiniti SA does not appear eager to draw comparisons between the two companies. While Lexus was acknowledged as competitor during the company’s recent launch, Infiniti seemed far more interested in emphasising itself as an alternative to the established German brands.


Whether it wants to admit it or not, however, there is no doubt that the majority of South African buyers will view Infiniti much as it does Lexus: as the luxury arm of an existing Japanese company.
Is this a fair conclusion to draw? That depends on how you look at it. Infiniti SA will be quick to state that it is an autonomous company that exists and operates in its own right. And it will point to the fact that its vehicles aren’t simply re-skinned Nissans, but highly refined luxury vehicles that boast class-leading technologies.


The specs: What sets it apart from Nissan?

To a certain extent, this is true. You’ll find some buttons and switches inside their cabins that are similar to that used in Nissan’s vehicles, but overall, their interiors are quite different. Moreover, Infiniti’s vehicles undoubtedly boast a unique exterior look, especially the SUVs. No Nissan (or any other make, for that matter) resembles them.


They also sport impressive features that make them seem right at home in the luxury segment.
The Infiniti FX, for example, offers the same features and equipment you’d expect to find in the BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Standard equipment across the range includes quilted leather seats, which are heated and ventilated up front, and feature 10-way electric adjustment for the driver (with memory) and 8-way electric adjustment for the front passenger.


Further items which are standard include:

  • reclining rear seats with split folding,
  • automatic bi-xenon adaptive corning headlights with a follow-me-home function,
  • a rear-view camera linked to front and rear parking sensors,
  • an electrically-adjustable leather-bound multifunction steering wheel,
  • an electric glass sunroof,
  • an auto-dimming rear-view mirror,
  • dual-zone adaptive climate control,
  • a powered tailgate,
  • a full-colour central display screen with an Infiniti Controller,
  • cruise control with a speed limiter,
  • an I-Key with smart access and memory for the driver’s seat,
  • mirrors and steering wheel positions,
  •  automatic wipers,
  • a 2GB Music Box with a single CD front loader linked to a seven-speaker audio system and USB and auxiliary ports with Bluetooth for hands-free mobile phone use and audio streaming.
  • Aluminium pedals, polished aluminium roof rails, self-healing paint, 20-inch alloy wheels and Cello Flame Maple wood trim.

The Around View Monitor has front-, rear- and side-mounted wide-angle cameras that work in unison to provide the driver with a 360-degree view of the vehicle’s surroundings.



At the top of the spec list – intelligent safety systems

Forward Collision Warning, Intelligent Brake Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control are three safety systems offered by the Dynamic Safety Shield, fitted to all Premium FX models.

A laser range finder is used to alert the driver of a possible frontal collision via audible and visual warnings.

The four disc brakes are also pre-pressurised in case an emergency stop ensues. Where the driver is unable to stop in time and a collision is unavoidable, Intelligent Brake Assist automatically engages the brakes to reduce speed and minimise potential accident damage.

The Intelligent Cruise Control system uses radar to monitor the vehicle in front of the Infiniti FX, managing speed and following distance. Including Low Speed Following, the system remains active even in slow-moving traffic situations for a truly relaxed drive.
Lane Departure Prevention uses a camera to detect unintentional lane departure. A yaw effect, created by selectively braking the Infiniti FX’s wheels, gently brings the vehicle back into its original lane. The system is only active above 72 km/h and relies on zero steering or indicator input.


The Infiniti FX S models (except the FX37) also have something called RAS (Rear Active Steering). What does this system do? Simply put, it steers the vehicle with the rear wheels. It uses electric motor-driven control to turn the rear wheels as much as one degree, which, in a tight turn, can make quite a difference.
Based on the above, it is quite easy to see that Infiniti’s vehicles tick all the right boxes. On paper, the EX and FX appear to have everything necessary to compete effectively in the luxury SUV segments, with similar systems seen on some of its German competitors – and even on luxury brands like Bentley.



Spec sheets and press releases aside, what’s it like?

But what about the real world?

Does an Infiniti offer the same sort of driving experience that a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi does?

For the most part, yes. The performance offered isn’t quite class-leading, but it is on par with that offered by other vehicles in the segment. We drove the FX30d and FX50 during the launch, and both derivatives performed respectably. They didn’t blow us away with their performance, but both certainly did justice to the luxurious FX.
Infiniti SA’s biggest problem is not its product offering. Its biggest problem is South African buyers’ love of German vehicles. Like Lexus, it is forced to compete in a market that is dominated by German marques. And unfortunately for Infiniti, the quality of its vehicles is practically irrelevant. What will chase customers away is the lack of a German badge.
So is Infiniti doomed?

No. The company is very aware of South Africans’ fondness for vehicles that hail from Germany. And while it is positioning itself as a competitor to these makes in broad terms, it seems intent on carving out a niche for itself as a sort of funky and rebellious alternative to the established brands.
This is a smart philosophy, and one that is backed up by the company’s product offering. Infiniti’s vehicles are, well, a little different. While they have all the creature comforts buyers would expect from vehicles in the luxury segment, they do not embody “Old World” sensibilities in the way that a lot of German vehicles do.
Consider, for instance, the new Mercedes-Benz M-Class. When describing it, words such as “elegant” and “understated” come to mind. The vehicle goes about its business in unfussy fashion, never overtly trying to attract attention. The SUV’s new ad campaign even celebrates its lack of flashiness, using the tagline: “Show you have nothing left to prove.”
Nothing about the Infiniti FX is understated. Its design is bold, different and showy. Its squinting headlamps and wide, shiny grille in particular attracts a lot of attention. Yes, an Infiniti is a premium product, but that thankfully doesn’t mean it is simply a Japanese alternative to a German vehicle. It isn’t offering the same sort of SUV as the German automakers. It’s offering something different. Something flashy. Something fun.