Here’s something to depress our older readers: There is an entire generation of drivers that has never known a world without Lexus. Note that I did not say “Lexus and Infiniti.” The majority of American drivers probably have no idea Infiniti exists.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I was there at the start, working for a BMW dealer, and I can tell you that many people on the retail side of the business thought that Infiniti would prove to be just as successful as Lexus. Maybe more successful. All of the momentum seemed to be on Nissan’s side: They had the near-legendary Nissan Primera as Infiniti’s entry-level car, beloved of autowriters and cognoscenti everywhere. Toyota had a Camry with frameless windows. Infiniti had the mighty, dream-crushing Q45, which was as fast as a V12 Bimmer and styled from nose to tail in an original, tasteful, fake-wood-free fashion. Toyota had a store-brand copy of the S-Class.
It didn’t turn out that way, of course. We now live in a Lexus world. The brand is so strong that other brands, like Cadillac, obtain the bulk of their sales volume selling knockoff versions of the RX350. I don’t have access to hard numbers, but I would suspect that Lexus dealers are more profitable, per unit sold, than any other franchise south of, say, Porsche.
And where is Infiniti? Nowhere. Lost. Sinking. The reasons for the brand’s failure are too numerous to consider in a single article. But I’m going to discuss what I think might be the most important reason here, because it doesn’t just apply to Nissan’s boutique brand and it continues to affect everyone from Honda to Hyundai.