As the luxury division of Nissan Motor Company, the Infiniti marque has been has been around for less than a quarter of a century. Before Honda launched their own Acura division in 1986, Japanese luxury car brands were unheard of. Three years later, both Nissan and Toyota (with its Lexus division) decided to enter the high-end auto market.
Yet, despite its recent origins, Infiniti has helped to carve out a significant niche in a world previously dominated by European (predominantly German) automakers. Developed exclusively for the overseas market, the Infiniti brand was not introduced into Japan until 2013. So, how did this luxury branch come to be? We take a look at the short but interesting history of Infiniti.
When did Infiniti start making cars?
In 1989, a Japanese premium car was still a novel concept in the West. And, unfortunately, Infiniti didn’t quite make the initial splash it intended to. The debut Q45, a full-sized luxury car, was advertised with a subtle Zen-inspired mystique. The cars, interestingly, weren’t even shown. However, sales were modest.
In 1990 a smaller M30 coupe was released to even slower sales followed by the G20 one year later. The J30, a mid-sized model, came in 1993 was outsold by the equivalent Lexus model, the ES.
Despite the slow sales early on, Infiniti was making some seriously impressive automobiles. The Q45 boasted at 278hp V8 engine, active suspension and four-wheel steering. The design details showed that it firmly belonged in the luxury market.
When was the QX4 launched?
In 1997, Infiniti entered America’s burgeoning sport utility vehicle market. It was the first in its group (we’re not counting Jeep or Land Rover) to come out with a mid-sized luxury SUV, the QX4. The QX4 was essentially a premium Nissan Pathfinder and was considerably tame. However, over the years it has been upgraded and seen a series of facelifts throughout the noughties.
The J30 was replaced with the second-generation JDM Nissan Cefiro, the I30 in the USA. Despite efforts to upgrade the car, and change its name, sales still floundered.
The Lost Decade and Redesign
Feeling the effects of the Japanese asset price bubble and the reduced desirability of Infiniti left the brand on the brink of extinction.
And so, they redesigned itself, becoming a brand that produced dynamic sporty luxury cars. This was around the same time that Nissan entered into an alliance with Renault. Although the redesigned brand started with a remodelled Q45 flagship, it was the G35 that helped improve sales in 2003.
Sales started to pick up, and after integrating some of the Nissan models the G35 (a Nissan Skyline-based Infiniti) won Motor Trend Car of the Year in 2003.
After this, sales started to pick up and the FX45, a sporty SUV with a low ground clearance, followed suit. This spirit continued with 2008’s sporty G37 coupe, which signaled Infiniti’s entrance into the luxury crossover market.
Infiniti in the European Market
The G37 marked Infiniti’s entrance into the European market, after unveiling the Infiniti EX35 at the Geneva Motor Show in 2008.
There were four models offered in Europe, to be phased in over a two-year period. These included the next generations of the Infiniti FX37, FX50, G37 and the G37 coupe.
When did Infiniti start producing hybrids?
The Infiniti M was unveiled in 2013 and contained a newly developed hybrid that included one electric motor and two clutches to allow the gas engine and the electric motor to drive the rear wheel simultaneously. The lithium battery came from the Infiniti Essence.
The Infiniti Essence was a concept car launched by Infiniti to commemorate their 20th Anniversary. It was one of the first energy-efficient cars the brand had released. The car itself was never actually expected to enter production, but aspects of the car were inserted into later models.
In 2010 Infiniti launched a new powertrain for Europe, with a new engine designed by the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The new engine is used in the Infiniti FX, EX and the Infiniti M.
While it appeared like Infiniti’s sales were on the up, sales of their SUVs were falling. This has been said to be down to the fact that it their SUVs failed to hit the common market, and was instead decidedly niche compared to their counterparts, Lexus and Acura.
Nissan announced the return of the front-wheel drive on Infiniti cars in 2011, with the launch of the Infiniti JX. The JX was created with the intention of giving Infiniti a credible rival to the Acura MDX and the BMW X5.
Cars under the Infiniti marque were sold in Japan from February 2014. The model initially introduced under the Infiniti marque was the hybrid version of the Q50 and was named Skyline.
And that brings us to the present day. The 2010’s for Infiniti have been characterised by technological innovations and a strong move into the European markets as well as Mexico, Russia and parts of Asia.