Infiniti Targets Family, Entry Segments

2013 Infiniti JX
Infiniti, Nissan's luxury division, sees an opportunity for growth in two segments — one addressed by the three-row JX crossover, the other by a future model that slots below the brand's popular G25/G37.

Ben Poore, vice president of Infiniti's U.S. business unit, sat down with us at the recent L.A. Auto Show to talk about the brand's potential. With inventories outpacing the industry average — unusual for a luxury brand — sales improved 3 percent in November, but they remain down nearly 4 percent this year. Poore notes the year-over-year results compare to a huge sales year (2010) for Infiniti, but says better inventory should help the road ahead.

He has high hopes for the JX crossover, a car he says targets "a very different market" from the QX SUV despite both having three rows of seats. While the $58,700 QX56 boasts V-8 towing capacity and a flashier clientele, Poore says the $40,450 JX35 hits the jackpot segment of luxury crossovers: the "luxury family."

Most of them buy the Lexus RX, a crossover SUV that has dominated its segment through three generations and more than a dozen years. Acura's MDX is a strong seller as well and comes with three rows of seats like the JX. Luxury SUVs that start between $30,000 and $45,000 make up 21% of sales for their respective brands, and it's easy to see why Infiniti wants its share.

The JX aims for parents over pedal mashers, and Poore doesn't think that runs afoul of Infiniti's rear-drive performance heritage.

"If I look at the definition of my brand, 'Inspired Performance' can mean different things to different people," he says. For families, that means "crisp acceleration but not over the top, [plus] interior room and flexibility — one of the No. 1 reasons to buy, even in luxury."

Near-Luxury: Focus on Technology, Not Power

2001 Infiniti G20
If the JX hits an established market, Infiniti's next foray enters shakier ground. Entry-luxury cars — or "near-luxury cars," as some have termed — slot below sport sedans like the BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G. They're anything but a slam dunk. Cars like the BMW 1 Series, Volvo C30 and Audi A3 sell a fraction of their pricier counterparts; the well-equipped Acura TSX is one of the few successes.

Infiniti's last entry-luxury car, the four-cylinder G20 (pictured above), ended in 2002, and Infiniti hasn't sold a four-cylinder in the U.S. since. But Infiniti plans to build a car below the current G25/G37, and Poore says there's room in the brand for a four-cylinder.

Poore rejects the down-market designation, noting younger shoppers link luxury with driver technology, not brute power. Right now, many of them are buying used luxury cars.

"If these [new] luxury vehicles tend to get very good fuel economy, have the right packaging inside, I think the world will accept them," Poore says. "Who knows the total size [of entry-luxury sales]. Everyone's getting in. ... We'll see. But is there room? Yes, I believe there is."

Comments 

Chris K

Yes, please!

IMHO, the reason low-end luxury cars like the 1-series, C30, and A3 don't sell too well is that most people that are looking for a cheaper luxury car aren't looking for something SMALLER than the mainstream models like the 328 or A4 or G25. They're just looking for something cheaper.

Is there room in the market for luxury-lite? I hope so, because I'd love to see a car something like a 528 but for <$40K. I'm OK with a more simple chassis and engine, but I want my quiet interior and tech toys.

Question is, what does Nissan do with a car like the Maxima if they start pushing entry-level Infiniti models? The Maxima is way over $30K, loaded.

WTF

Poore need only look at the successful luxury players to realize that moving downmarket is the wrong direction and hurts both Nissan as well as Infiniti.

jaded

Maybe I am weird, but I would like a compact luxury car. If the gas mileage is good, and it is quiet with great technology, I would buy it in a heartbeat. The Lexus 200h is a great example. At this moment it was a little bit out of budget, but for my next car, if the technology is available and intuitive, I would get one. I just bought a top trim Ford Focus due to the quiet ride and great technology. Infiniti is on the right track to attract the younger buyers of Gen Y. We want a nice experience in the right package. We also want smaller more efficient cars.

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