Infiniti at 30: Special Editions and Uncertainty
As it blows out the candles on its 30th birthday cake, Infiniti’s biggest problems aren’t rocks and trees, but sales. That, and a shaky financial foundation underpinning its parent’s house.
Unlike in 1989, when the fledgling premium brand tempted buyers to pick up a new Q45, um, sight unseen, Infiniti is doing all it can to draw pairs of eyes to its real, physical vehicles, launching an Edition 30 trim package to mark the anniversary.
What does Edition 30 bring to the table? Standard safety features and blacked-out trim pieces, mainly. On the Q50, Q60, QX50, QX60, and QX80, ticking the birthday box brings a slew of driver-assist niceties to the table, among them Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, Around View Monitor, Backup Collision Intervention, and Predictive Forward Collision Warning.
Normally, one would need to spring for the optional ProAssist package to bring these onboard. Added to these electronic saviors are a black chrome grille surround, fender trim, side-view mirrors, rear finisher, and dark-finish wheels.
Everything else remains the same. On sale this fall, the Edition 30 crop will tempt buyers at the end of a year that promises to be even worse than the last. The Infiniti brand pushed itself to a post-recession high water mark in 2017, unloading 153,415 vehicles in the U.S. and capping off six consecutive years of sales growth. Considering the brand had dwindled into five-figure territory by 2011, this was an achievement in itself.
And yet momentum stalled as the industry cooled off. Infiniti’s current rate of contraction outpaces that of the industry. While the decline from 2017 to 2018 came in at 2.7 percent, sales though the end of July show a year-to-date loss of 12.5 percent. Vehicles like the recently revamped QX50 remain in the red (QX50 sales fell 2.3 percent, year to date), while passenger car volume is down 29.9 percent thus far in 2019. Its utility vehicle lineup posted a 2.5 percent drop.
The only vehicle showing consistent gains is the flagship QX80, refreshed for 2019, which saw its popularity rise 18 percent this year. Luckily for Infiniti, that’s a vehicle with beefy margins.
As Nissan struggles to overcome its financial slump, all the while resisting the urge to boost incentives, Infiniti finds itself with a stable of mostly shrinking models and a future steeped in uncertainty. Come 2021, all new Infiniti models will be electrified in one way or another — hybrids, including Nissan’s novel e-Power system, and pure electrics, the latter crop heralded by a procession of concept cars numerous enough to risk spreading confusion. Ominously, one broke down before reaching the stage at this year’s Detroit auto show.
America’s appetite for EVs is no sure thing, and potential demand for an electric Infiniti has to take the popularity of present-day models into account, at least to some degree. Earlier this year, Infiniti pulled out of Europe after failing to ignite a spark.
The road carrying Infiniti into the future lies under stormy skies.
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