To say that much of Infiniti’s fortunes rest on a home-run makeover of its mid-sized QX60 SUV is a bit like saying the Titanic could have used a few more lifeboats.
Nissan’s 31-year-old sport luxury brand is in such trouble around the world, speculation is growing that the Infiniti nameplate could slip beneath the stormy waves in a competitive hurricane. Ever the weak sibling of the three Japanese luxury brands – including Honda’s Acura, and Toyota’s Lexus – Infiniti has failed to keep pace with the technology and performance of its competitors. As a result, Acura outsells it 2 to 1 and Lexus 2.5 to 1 in Canada.
And the pricier European-based BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Mercedes GLE performance SUVs all leave the Infiniti in the dust.
“They need QX60 to be a hit,” said John Bardwell, automotive product specialist with Bond Brand Loyalty in Toronto.
The mid-sized QX60 was Infiniti’s first three-row crossover when introduced in 2013 (as the JX35), and it became the company’s best-selling model. Yet it has gone through only minor refreshes since its introduction, and Canadian buyers have lost interest. Sales of the QX60 dropped from 4,350 in 2018 to 3,982 in 2019.
Critics have pointed to Infiniti’s dated looks and technology and decidedly uninspiring performance in many of its models.
As parent company Nissan lost 11 per cent of sales in the U.S. in 2019, Infiniti was pulled from the western European market completely. Worldwide, Infiniti sold 249,000 vehicles in 2018 (its best year), but that dropped nearly 25 per cent to 188,944 units in 2019. The same year, Infiniti’s market share in the U.S. dropped to 0.7 per cent.
“It’s a brand that came out with such promise initially,” said Bardwell. “They really have lost their brand ethos.”
The QX60 aims to find it again. Alfonso Albaisa, the company’s senior vice-president of global design, told Canadian journalists the “expression of the soul of the brand is key” in the new vehicle, which is expected to begin production in 2021.
Infiniti recognizes the new QX60 is carrying a lot of weight on its shoulders, which is why the company revealed a “monograph” of the new vehicle this week and is putting it on display at the Beijing Motor Show from Sept. 26 to Oct 5. As Infiniti describes it, a monograph is a stage in development sort of mid-way between concept and production that “previews some of the proportions and design elements” likely to be found in the production vehicle.
Let’s hope this monograph’s looks make it to the final product, because it is a beauty. The QX60 monograph, shown in a reflective platinum colour, has a sort of calm sportiness to it. Albaisa said it has “a little more Japanese DNA” – inspired by the Japanese concept of “Ma” – a harmonious minimalism. It features a more aerodynamic look, wider stance, horizontal shoulder line and large wheel arches accommodating equally large wheels with “Infiniti” embossed on the 22-inch alloy rims.
The front grille is higher and more prominent than the current QX60′s, with a three-dimensional inner mesh and a glowing brand emblem fixed in the upper centre. The mesh pattern is repeated in the side air intakes in the lower corners of the bumper.
Front lighting resembles digital piano keys, and the shape of the sharply angled headlamps, in Infiniti’s words, was inspired by an electrical heatsink device. The rear lamps appear to wrap around the highly rounded rear deck of the vehicle.
Infiniti says the monograph has a longer wheelbase than the current QX60 (which is 2,901 mm), and the cabin appears longer as well, with a teardrop-shaped glasshouse that contributes to the aerodynamic look. The black panoramic roof has a “kimono fold” pattern – a series of perpendicular lines – and flows into an integrated spoiler.
Much remains unknown about the new QX60. Infiniti provided neither interior views of the monograph, nor any information on the planned powertrain choices. The current model has a 3.6-litre gasoline V6, but Nissan is developing one EV platform that will support two different powertrains: a fully electric plug-in powertrain and a gas-generated EV powertrain. The former is a traditional EV; the latter will use a three-cylinder VC-Turbo gasoline engine that will feed energy just to the battery.
“This vehicle is one of the key products for the company,” said Albaisa. Whither it goes, so goes the brand.
Yet, even if the QX60 is a success, says Bardwell, “I don’t think it can save them.” The company needs to develop a range of new products to get itself back on competitive footing, and Bardwell questioned whether it has the resources to do that.
Alfonso responded that much more is to come: “We’re not finished with the monographs yet,” he said.
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