Is Infiniti Getting Back To Normal? Two Whole Consecutive Months Of YOY U.S. Sales Growth
Infiniti USA reported a 20% year-over-year February 2015 sales improvement, a gain of nearly 2000 sales during a period which saw Cadillac, Buick, Jaguar, and Lincoln sales decrease. Among premium brands, only Land Rover (up 23%), and Lexus (up 22%) posted greater February gains than Infiniti.
In fact, Infiniti’s February improvement was the second consecutive for Nissan’s upmarket brand – Infiniti sales rose 7% in the first month of 2015 – a meaningful statistic given the way 2014 ended. Second-half sales last year slid 10%.
Moreover, it marked the best February ever for the brand: 27% better than February 2013, 26% better than February 2012, 28% better than February 2011, 66% better than February 2010.
Speaking of February 2012, that was the last time Infiniti outsold Audi in America, at least until last month. On an annual basis, Infiniti was typically the greater generator of U.S. sales volume until 2011. But while Infiniti sales fell 14% between 2005 and 2014 (the latter being just the fifth-best year of the last decade for Infiniti USA), Audi volume more than doubled during the same period. The chart below displays the gradual Infiniti market share decline and the Audi market share upswing.
Nevertheless, February was an especially strong month for Infiniti, a brand which still operates with a relatively small lineup. Setting aside the forgotten QX50 (only 177 February sales), mostly ignored Q60, Q70, and QX70 (formerly the G coupe, M sedan. and FX crossover), reveals 85% of Infiniti’s February sales were collected by just two sedans and two utility vehicles.
By way of comparison only, 68% Audi USA’s February sales volume was produced by its two top cars and two top utility vehicles. In other words, while many luxury brands have more than a handful of products that sell well, Infiniti currently produces the overwhelming majority of its sales with a small portfolio: the Infiniti G sedan-turned-Q40, the Q40’s Q50 successor, the Pathfinder-based QX60, and the Navigator-fighting QX80.
And in their respective classes, those vehicles aren’t unpopular. Q50 volume is up 6% this year to 6615 units, just behind the Lexus IS (which trails the BMW 3-Series/4-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class) but ahead of the Acura TLX; well ahead of the Cadillac ATS and Audi A4.
The Q40 is tasked with tangling a newer crop of entry-level contenders. With 2672 sales so far this year, it’s well back of the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3 (5097 and 4662 sales, respectively, year-to-date) but it’s outselling cars like the Volvo S60, Lexus CT, and Acura ILX.
The QX80 doesn’t sell like the Escalade or Mercedes-Benz GL, but with 2831 year-to-date sales, it’s more than 1000 units ahead of the Lincoln Navigator, sales of which doubled in early 2015. The QX60 sells less than half as often as the all-conquering Lexus RX and trails the Acura MDX by 3372 sales heading into March, but it’s only 898 sales back of Mercedes-Benz’s M-Class and well ahead of lower-tier players like the Range Rover Sport, Lincoln MKX, Audi Q7, Land Rover LR4, and Volkswagen Touareg.
Put it this way: Infiniti is capable of building vehicles people want. But they need to build more of them if the brand is going to be a major player in the United States. Indeed, they need to build more of them if Infiniti is going to be what Infiniti once was. A rival for the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, and Audi A6 that actually generated any consumer attention would be a big help.
But the Mercedes-Benz GLA-related QX30 is more likely the vehicle that will provide Infiniti’s next big push. Don’t think for a minute that being late to the compact luxury crossover party will cause undue harm, as it’s become obvious that the Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3 are clearly capable of stealing sales from the established BMW X1. Perhaps the QX30 can do the same.
Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.
Bd2 on Mar 18, 2015
This semi-insurgence for Infiniti (problem when so many still spell it "Infinity") is largely due to decison-makers realizing that it is a losing proposition to head to head with BMW and MB in RWD models (notwithstanding the success of the G/Q50 which was largely based on its pricing/lease deals). Infiniti was meant to be the "BMW" to Lexus' more MB-like approach, hence sportier RWD CUV offerings like the FX/QX70. But the problem is that RWD CUVs are more expensive, and most buyers ("soccer-moms") aren't looking for sporty CUVs (and if they are, they'd just buy a Porsche CUV) and Infiniti exacerbated the problem with its 2 RWD CUVs being short on cargo room. Finally wizened up and brought forth the cheaper, larger FWD JX/QX60 - which while not at MDX levels (about half), is still far better than what Infiniti had been doing with its RWD models save the G/Q50 (don't consider the current RX a direct competitor, but the larger next gen RX will be). Infiniti's main driver of growth will be the same as for Acura and Lexus - FWD-based crossovers.
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