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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Autoblog Causes a Runaway Train of Thought

Infiniti Essence Concept

In the past week’s Autoblog, a bit of emphasis has been put upon a seldomly discussed niche— Japanese premium brands. Paul Eisenstein wrote an article on whether Honda has lost its footing, questioning Acura’s direction. Noah Joseph reports plans within Infiniti to anchor their line-up with both an entry-level and halo models.

For years, the Japanese premium brands have ambitiously competed with the Germans in the luxury car market. Focusing their strategies in the United States, Honda was first to introduce the Acura brand in 1986. Following suit, Lexus of Toyota and Infiniti of Nissan stepped onto the North American stage in 1989.

Since the year of inception, the only Japanese model to consistently challenge the finest from Europe is the Lexus LS series. After just 14 months from its debut, the LS already outsold competing models from Benz, BMW, and Jaguar. Then, for the next fifteen consecutive years in a row, the LS remained the top ranked vehicle in J.D. Power Associate’s Vehicle Dependability Study.

Looking back fifteen years ago, the ‘90s were a fantastic decade for American consumers that were in the market for a Japanese car. The trend for modifying Honda Civics, Preludes and Acura Integras had yet to peak. The NSX turned the supercar game on its ear. The Notorious B.I.G. rapped about how he drove a Lexus LX four and a half with bulletproof glass tints if he wanted some ass. But you know what's really crazy? Ludacris only tweeted last Monday, “My 93 Acura Legend has 230,000 miles on it & still running strong. Still my favorite car out of every single one I’ve owned.” Check out Luda's twitter page here.

Unfortunately, the Infiniti brand never garnered similar success. Initial Infiniti commercials did not provide images of the car itself so many Americans were not even familiar with what they were trying to sell. And, although Q was one of the better handling and more driver-centric vehicles in its class, its less luxuriously appointed interior and premium over an LS made it less desirable.

Strangely, when we fast forward 15 years and consider the brands now, it’s as though Acura and Infiniti had switched places.

Acura? Don't stare too long... you might turn to stone.

The styling of the previous generation TL was Alfa Romeo inspiring, but they had to replace it with a new one; chubby with bucked tooth. Okay, fine. Jokes on its hideous design direction aside, I feel that Acura began to slip when the suits, unaware of how much brand equity was at risk upon the loss, decided to drop the names Legend and Integra. Acura’s mistake is literally fundamental; a marque is without a foundation if you abandon the first generation.

This was compounded with a lower than expected level of success from the Legend replacing 3.5RL, Acura's lack of foresight to develop a V8 or introduce a rear wheel drive model to answer German rivals, and their inability to stun the masses with unique and attractive design—all of which Infiniti was able to deliver and all of which are prerequisites in the luxury brand category. Personally I’d like to add their inability to deliver a replacement to the NSX halo car as a factor as well.

This conveniently brings us to Infiniti. Its stylish and athletic G37, M56 and FX provide a new found identity for Infiniti as the Japanese premium sporting brand.

And now there are discussions for a new Infiniti halo model and a new entry level as well! This can be great! Allow me to share with you the halo car I’ve already had in mind. First, heavy styling influences from the Infiniti Essence Concept you saw at the top of the post. Secondly, AWD and shared high performance technology to cozy up an association with the R35 GTR. And third, a hybrid. Yes, I just went there.

As for the entry-level, I’m not exactly sure what I’d like to see here. It used to be straightforward when the Integra and the G20 were still around, but I can say with confidence that I do not see Infiniti introducing a hot hatchback. Nor do I see any compacts from Nissan’s stable that is worthy of rebadging and I’d rather not see a CVT transmission either. Fuel efficiency is great and all, but never at the expense of a sporty engine note. No one should suffer the drone of dirt devil vacuum cleaners every morning they commute to work.

We can’t forget Renault-Nissan’s participation with Mercedes Benz either. There’s a possibility that the halo Infiniti is an IPL, Infiniti Performance Line, with AMG power. But really, since when were halo cars not supposed to be built completely in-house with pride? Likewise, it’s also a possibility for Infiniti to introduce a sister B-Class for an entry level. Yet this is doubtful too, as the B was never sold in North America (At least not in the United States, anyone Canadian care to confirm?). But I'm fine, no B-class, thank you very much. Can we ask for an IPL 1 series M Coupe fighter instead?

Things are getting a bit tricky in the future. In light of the CAFE regulations for automakers to hit an average of 35 MPG, Danny Chin’s last post suggests the potential of the new BMW inline-4 and the different ways it can be implemented for present as well as future models. Moreover, BMW has confirmed its plans on a future fwd model.

Whatever it is Acura or Infiniti plans on doing, what’s certain is, of course, the inevitable automotive industry movement required to address CAFE. If Acura is going to do anything to revamp itself into the popular marque it once was, now is definitely the time to take advantage of the CAFE regulations and the trends in efficiency and smaller vehicles. Maybe Acura had foresight after all. Maybe what they needed all along were efficient FF platforms.

Oh crap, did this train of thought turn into a complete train wreck of tangents…

Here, have an emoticon. =___=


  1. We’ve had the B-Class for a while in Canada. Since 2006, I believe.

    As for Infiniti, I think that a coupe-only entry-level car, much like the 1-series, would be successful. Infiniti could even use the Juke’s 1.6 DIG as the base engine and put the VQ37 in the top end model.

    Although Acura is going to show us a restyled TL in Chicago, it’s still going to be a long struggle for them to regain relevance.

  2. Acura had it right with the original TSX. I drove a comparable 3 Series at the time while my father had a TSX - aside from the front-drive, the TSX was an incredible little car. Apparently Acura has the mindset to make things worse to make them better?

  3. I think Acura has lost themselves a bit. It's not that there's anything WRONG with their cars. The problem is there's little that's right with them either.