Luxury range will arrive in 2014 if brand's local arm has its way.
If Nissan New Zealand has its way, you might think twice about buying that new Lexus in 2014. If all goes to plan, it will have a range of Infiniti cars to offer. Models like the M-series luxury sedan, or the dramatic-looking FX crossover pictured here.
What's an Infiniti? Think of it as Nissan's super-luxury brand, in the same way that Lexus tops the Toyota tree. The two are in fact about the same age: both Infiniti and Lexus were created to capitalise on the American market and launched in the same year, 1989. Admittedly, it's taken Infiniti longer to focus on other international avenues but it's definitely doing so now, with the intention of raising global sales from 146,000 last year to 500,000 by 2016. Europe is crucial to its expansion plans, but every suitable market is being evaluated.
Australia is the latest. Infiniti was launched to Australian media and dealers in New Zealand last month and goes on sale in August. What's good for Australia might also be good for New Zealand: Nissan New Zealand managing director John Manley says eyes towards InfinitiInfiniti has a global expansion plan and yes, we are keen to be involved.John Manley,
Nissan New Zealand managing directorInfiniti FX50She is "very serious about bringing the luxury brand here, although he stresses that even with the operation running at full steam and the benefit of marketing resources established for Australia, it's unlikely that Infiniti could be available to Kiwi buyers any earlier than 2014.
The current range for Australia comprises the M-series sedan, FX-series crossover and the smaller G coupe and convertible. For want of a less obvious comparison, think of the M as a Lexus GS rival, the FX as competition for the Lexus RX and the G as a Japanese BMW 3-series coupe/convertible.
Fast forward to 2014 and there will be an all-new G-series - perhaps the ideal launch platform for the brand in New Zealand. Within two years there will also be a small car to rival the Audi A3 and Lexus CT.
The investment required to launch a new line of vehicles would be considerable, but it's not the biggest issue, says Manley: "It's just part and parcel of having the brand. It's par for the course. We are in the early stages of evaluation and we will watch Australia very closely.
"The main issue is that this has to fit New Zealand. That's what we have to decide. But Infiniti has a global expansion plan and yes, we are keen to be involved."
Given that Infiniti competes in the luxury sector, there are strict requirements about retail space. But the brand has adopted a pragmatic post-GFC outlook in its dealerships, with small spaces that offer a premium ambience. Cars are displayed, but they are not necessarily the main focus; company people liken the Infiniti showroom template to the reception area of a luxury hotel. New Zealand is a small market and that ethos could suit nicely. Don't expect a plethora of outlets, though: Infiniti could potentially launch with just one dealer, in Auckland.
By 2014 the Infiniti range will have evolved, but the M and FX models I drove are full of promise. They certainly deliver on style and engineering, even if the cabin quality and ambience are not quite up to Lexus standards.
Like Lexus, Infiniti offers a luxury sedan with a hybrid drivetrain. The M37h is impressively smooth and quiet, astonishingly rapid (0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds) and can accelerate to the open-road speed limit on battery alone.
Infiniti's focus on the European market means it offers something Lexus does not (at least in New Zealand): diesel power. Both the M and FX are offered with an excellent V6 turbo-diesel engine, giving the brand a decent crack at the German establishment, where diesel is now the preferred power choice among buyers. Also on the books are petrol V6s and in the case of the flagship FX50S we drove, a mighty 5.0-litre petrol V8. If it's coming, Infiniti is still at least 18 months away. But the way the brand is progressing, it might be worth waiting for.