Infiniti Needs New CUVs, Stat

Christie Schweinsberg Blogger, Senior Editor

February 20, 2015

3 Min Read
Infiniti Needs New CUVs, Stat

The news that Infiniti Americas Vice President Michael Bartsch is vacating his post comes as no surprise.

Despite parent Nissan’s strides in recent years, Infiniti seems barely better off than it was nearly three years ago when it hired former Audi executive Johan de Nysschen (also now gone) to oversee the brand globally.

Infiniti worldwide sales were up by 13.5% last year, but its 2014 global volume of 186,200 was slightly more than half of BMW’s total U.S. sales of 339,738.

U.S. sales for Infiniti were flat in 2014, up 0.8% to 117,330 units.

Why has the needle barely moved for the Nissan luxury brand?

The reasons are multiple, but key is the lack of compelling, updated CUVs.

Infiniti was relatively quick to jump on the luxury CUV trend back in 2003 with the FX, which followed five years after the segment-creating Lexus RX and four years after BMW’s X5.

But Infiniti has let the midsize model, now called the QX70, linger without major updates since its second generation launched in 2008.

The brand was faster to market with a small-midsize luxury CUV, launching the EX in 2007, well before the debut of the Porsche Macan and Lexus NX last year.

But the EX, now known as the QX50, hasn’t had a total redesign since.

It’s not just a matter of having fresh product, either.

Infiniti has struggled to achieve the kind of volume with its CUVs that rivals have, largely due to key product deficiencies. The styling on the QX70 is too out-there, the backseat in the QX50 too cramped.

Next year’s QX30 small CUV will be helpful to Infiniti, but that segment still is in its infancy, made up now of just the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA and GLK. And volume is low, as Small Luxury CUV sales in 2014 tallied 68,346 compared with 507,072 Middle Luxury CUVs delivered.

To be clear, the large and performance cars Infiniti has talked about are important for casting a halo over the brand.

But you have to have something for folks who are drawn in by the halo cars, but can’t afford them.

Increasingly, luxury buyers likely are opting for CUVs, a sector that last year saw bigger growth in the U.S. than cars.

In 2014, WardsAuto data shows Large Luxury CUV sales were up 7.2%, Middle Luxury CUVs sales rose 7.4% and Small Luxury CUV deliveries increased 15.7%.

Compare those figures to Upper, Middle and Lower Luxury Cars, which registered gains of 1.4%, 5.8% and a loss of 6.0%, respectively, in 2014.

The Germans still sell more cars than utility vehicles based on cars, but the latter group slowly is catching up, and with more and more models being introduced. Mercedes GLE, anyone?

Infiniti rival Acura sold nearly double the amount of RDXs and MDXs last year as it did cars.

Infiniti light trucks, which include the QX60 3-row CUV and QX80 large SUV, outsold Infiniti cars in 2014. But with volume of 52,067, they represented less than half the light truck sales of Acura and BMW or the amount of RXs that Lexus sold.

For further proof of the segment’s rise in prominence, the No.1-selling luxury model in the U.S. last year for the first time was a CUV, the RX, with 107,490 deliveries, about 7,000 more than the longtime No.1, the BMW 3-Series.

With figures like these, it’s clear to see that to claim a bigger share of the luxury segment, Infiniti needs new, and more CUVs, stat.

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