BRUCE GAIN

Waiting for Infiniti to stand out from the crowd

Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.
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Infiniti faces an uphill task in making inroads in Europe and reinvigorating U.S. sales if its forthcoming Q30 compact fails to stand out from the crowd.

Infiniti says its Q30 concept, which largely previews its upcoming production model, is an original design for the European market that combines a "sporty" body style with a hatchback and the higher stance of a crossover.

But the Q30's design hardly represents something radically different in today's very crowded luxury car market.

Infiniti says its ambitious plans to more than double its global sales by the end of the decade to 500,000 units a year will hinge largely on reinventing the brand. In order to realize this goal, Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen says the carmaker must launch new models that are bold and even "provocative."

Product launches aside, Infiniti's plans can sometimes be radical.

The automaker's Emerg-E concept and prototype for a fast plug-in hybrid sports car is indeed bold and daring, but the company has not announced plans to launch a production version.

Infiniti's management team has experience launching models that have set other carmakers apart. De Nysschen, who has spoken about a need for Infiniti to launch a sports car, was head of Audi in North America when the launch of the R8 supercar helped the automaker better distinguish itself as a brand.

De Nysschen also chose Michael Bartsch to head the Americas. Bartsch was chief operating officer and executive vice president of Porsche Cars North America when Porsche launched its new-generation Porsche 911 and Cayenne. Bartsch is also a big sports car enthusiast so he understands the key selling points of high-performance models.

But at the end of the day, it is the upcoming launch of a conservative hatchback crossover-like model (Infiniti maintains that the Q30 is not a crossover) that is supposed to convince buyers to walk away from German premium brands.

The Q30 is due to arrive in 2015 as the first of five new models promised from the carmaker before 2020.

That means any chance of Infiniti redefining its image with the launch of a unique and radical performance car is still some years off.

You can reach Bruce Gain at bgain@crain.com.

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