Monday, June 12, 2006

2008: Infiniti in Europe

This is a wrap-up of previous blog entries about the arrival of Infiniti in Europe and the future of Renault. All together for more clarity and future reference:
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Infiniti: welcome to Europe!
Recent news have stated that Infiniti, a Renault owned brand, will arrive in Europe in 2008. Auto-future would like to give a warm welcome to this brand and rejoice with this excellent news. This arrival means that consumers will have more choice in the luxury segment. The excellence of the luxury trio (Mercedes, BMW and Lexus) will be challenged by this new competitor. More choice, more competition usually means better prices and service. More good news are related to Renault influence in Infiniti. Currently Renault has no influence over Infiniti products but this will change in the future. This means that design and product evolutions will be up to date with European tastes. Expect, for example, to receive an updated G35 in 2008 with some slight changes over the recently presented G35 sedan. And diesels: Europeans love diesels and Infiniti products must reflect these preferences.In the next days Auto-future will look at this important event. What to expect from Infiniti, their chances of success but also some reflections about the (bright) future of Renault. And the reasons why PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) needs to be worried…
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What to expect
This is a simple exercise. Just by looking at the current range one can predict what will arrive in Europe and what not (or better, what should not).

G35: YES, of course. But with diesels
G35 coupé: YES, of course!
M35/45: Maybe, but needs a redesign to comply with European tastes. And diesels, of course.
Q45: errrr..., no.
FX35/45: YES, PLEASE! However, don't forget the V6 diesel.
QX: NO! Please don't.
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Technically the biggest changes are related to engines. The wonderful Nissan V6 will be present as well as in some Renault vehicles. The current Renault diesel 4-cylinder engines can be used in the G-sedan, both in 2.0 and 2.2 versions. However, a new diesel V6 must be developed by Renault. The current offer originated from Isuzu is not adequate.Future vehicles? Well, it is a bit early for that. One can expect that Infiniti range will develop with some European-only models. Possibly some smaller SUV based on a future (Nissan Qashqai) Renault model… but don’t be afraid: Renault will not exercise badge-engineering in its cheapest way! The technical expertise and practice of Renault is too good for that.
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What are their chances?
Can Infiniti threat the hegemony of Mercedes and BMW in the luxury segment in Europe? Well, of course not, at least not for quite a few years. For starters the target of Infiniti in Europe should be Lexus, a brand that will greatly expand in the next years mainly due to the arrival of diesel engines. So, assuming that Infiniti will have diesels right from the start, one can envisage Lexus as a reasonable competitor for comparison of sales numbers. Infiniti has quite a few weapons to fight Lexus in Europe: more competitive price, more sporty and emotional design (at least the new G-sedan and the next G-coupé) and also something related to Renault and the way the French manufacturer will handle its new brand. I don’t know how to qualify it, it’s a je ne sais quoi, a savoir-faire of Renault that will greatly benefit Infiniti.Of course Infiniti will not steal sales only from Lexus. One can include in this target-group base versions of Mercedes and BMW equivalent models, top versions of mainstream manufacturers (Renault, VW, Ford, Peugeot, etc.), premium-wannabes (FWD Audis, Saab 9-3, Volvo S40/V50). So everyone has reasons to seriously look at Infiniti. However, a key factor must be provided in order to bring success to Infiniti. Besides the introduction of diesel engines and some minor changes of design, interior trims, etc. one thing needs to be accomplished: the communication, marketing strategy and dealer network must be completely independent from Renault. Nothing wrong with Renault, it’s just the way things work in the luxury segment! But don’t worry, Renault people know their stuff and will accomplish these goals with success.
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Infiniti and the future of Renault
The people at Renault must be very happy these days. For starters there is the success in Formula 1 races. This is not a new thing for Renault, in the 90’s they dominated for several years as engine-supplier. Now they achieve great success developing the whole car. This is one key feature about Renault: if these guys decide on trying to achieve something they usually accomplish it. Another example is passive safety. They decided they would be the best in the business and simply got it. More happiness for Renault? Just check their purchase… when they bought Nissan they got in the business a little jewel: Infiniti. A proper luxury brand with all the usual amenities - V6 and V8 engines, an impeccable record of reliability, some amazing designs (mainly the G-coupé and FX SUV), and most important, RWD platforms. And finally they will be taking advantage of all of this and bring it to Europe. Thank you Mr. Ghosn!So Renault can now focus on mainstream while pushing Infiniti well into the luxury segment. But Mr. Ghosn made more important decisions. The next models of Renault will have more restrained, elegant and emotional design. Less wacky designs and more emotional appeal. Check out the next Laguna III for the first iteration in this new philosophy. Typically Renault has been the most avantgarde and adventurous brand, as opposed to Peugeot that filled the classical and elegant area. In a political context, Renault was left-wing and Peugeot would be moderate-right. Now Renault will do what Blair and the Labour-party did in the UK. They will advance to the conservative side. PSA people need to be worried about this. And they also need to be worried because they don’t have a luxury brand. My advice for Peugeot: make a very good and serious offer for Jaguar. Really do your best to try to buy it from Ford. PSA people: do it now or you will regret it later. (B-plan: if this fails try to buy Saab while it still is a sort of premium brand).
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Infiniti and Renault "haut de gamme"
In our comments about the arrival of Infiniti in Europe we already mentioned that Renault can focus on mainstream while Infiniti will be targeted at the luxury segment. However, Renault wants to be leader in profitability amongst the mainstream manufacturers. For that purpose several actions will be taken including a move to more serious, classic and elegant design (both exterior and interior) and improvements in perceived quality. One of the most expected future cars from Renault is their substitute for the Velsatis. Again, Renault has good chances by using the platform of the Infiniti M-sedan. However, I would not be surprised if they follow a different route from the classical 4-door sedan. While using Infiniti underpinnings Renault can choose to make a 4-door coupe following the Mercedes CLS lead. Or maybe develop a crossover vehicle seating up to 7 persons (and following the Mercedes R-class lead). Both of this options are good alternatives for the future Renault haut de gamme, knowing that by using the Infiniti platform Renault will gain much of the features needed to have credibility in this segment: big engines and RWD. And the lack of those features sure undermined the efforts of Renault (and other French manufacturers) in the luxury segment in the past.
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Infiniti in Europe, the future of Renault and... Alpine?
To make a closure on the discussions about Infiniti in Europe (check previous entries) Auto-Future would like to kindly ask Renault to bring back the Alpine brand. This is a well-known and loved European prestige-sport brand that existed under the Renault umbrella some 15 years ago. The reborn of this brand would allow Renault to move further into the prestige segment and maybe targeting (in a few years) such coveted machinery as Porsche and Aston Martin. For that purpose Renault now has available credible technical platforms in the shapes of the G-coupé and future Skyline GT-R cars. The underpinnings of these vehicles could be improved and the design of Alpine managed to reflect its heritage. And Renault could get a commercial liasion to its Formula 1 winning campaign. On a closing note I would like to give an example of the passion and “halo” that the Alpine brand carries: a Portuguese designer is currently building a “modern-Alpine” (Ernesto Freitas - Lusomotors). Not just designing or dreaming but actually building the car! His interpretation of a modern Alpine is a RWD vehicle, a small sports-car with central V6 engine. This example could well be the entry-level model of the Alpine family. Check his efforts in the video that shows a scale model being machined.
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Video link

3 comments:

F de Paris said...

What an impressive compilation of views, David!
However, if I quite understand that the previous and éphémère version of the M 35/45 (based on the Nissan Cedric/Gloria) would have needed some "european adaptations", I do believe the current one (based on the Nissan Fuga) would be a huge success here, regarding both its exotic (europeans do not like boring cars) and raffiné styling ;)
Otherwise, I deeply regret that Infiniti never managed to import its G35 Coupé (even if the FX 35/45 can be bought all over Europe, more easily in Switzerland with established dealers). I do hope the seconde generation will worth to die for :)
Finally, whenever it was a flop, the current Renault haut de gamme's right spelling is "Vel Satis".

Keep improving your wonderful Auto-future blog, David :p

Best regards,

F de Paris ;)

David said...

Thank you for your comments and for reading the whole stuff. There is another imprecision in the report: Renault didn't actually bought Nissan, they made an alliance. But it is a sort of Daimler-Chrysler thing. The companies state it as an alliance but it is one of the partners that is in charge. In this cas it's Renault.

Anonymous said...

Any idea where the Infiniti European Headquarters will be?
Couldn't find it anywhere.