It goes without saying that Infiniti isn’t exactly what you’d call a mainstream brand. It’s lost in the shadows of parent automaker, Nissan, and hasn’t really established the kind of independent presence that Nissan had hoped.
So, it was pretty telling when Nissan Executive Vice President, Andy Palmer, told Wards Auto that Carlos Ghosn – CEO of Nissan – gave him the green light to cancel the brand altogether. However, instead of sending Infiniti to pasture, Palmer decided to not only keep the brand but also champion for more autonomy from Nissan.
Palmer cited the kind of relationship Audi has with its parent company, Volkswagen. Despite being owned by a largely mainstream, middle-market automaker, Audi has crafted its own premium identity that’s separate from the VW brand. This independence has allowed Audi to "create a series of professionals that understand the premium market in a very premium way.”
Nissan eventually hired former Audi USA chief, Johan de Nysschen, as Infiniti president and lead the efforts in bringing some structure to the luxury brand. Since assuming the position, de Nysschen has made it clear that one of his first edicts as president is to become a brand that’s "less about volume and more about becoming a ’proper’ luxury brand.”
Does Infiniti have to do the same thing Lexus did with Toyota to create autonomy from Nissan? Not necessarily, but in order for them to achieve that objective, they need to build their models separate from Nissan’s influence.
They’ll still share some platforms and underpinnings, like the Toyota/Lexus and VW/Audi teams, but if you’re a customer you need Infiniti to offer features — styling or mechanical — that separates itself from its parent company. Without those changes, they’ll always be treated as retouched Nissans with a different badge.