THE choice for those shopping in the already overcrowded upper echelons of the local passenger car market has just got more difficult with the arrival of not only a new luxury brand, but also because it has launched five of its models to the market all at once.
The new brand is Infiniti, the luxury division of Nissan, and it was introduced to the South African motoring media in Franschhoek last week, along with the FX, EX, M, G coupe and G convertible models. Only two versions of the Infiniti FX, a large SUV in the mould of a BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML, Audi Q7 or Porsche Cayenne were available for the journalists to drive, with the other models on static display.
The Infiniti brand has been on the global market since 1989 and, in fact, about 150 of its Q45 large sedans were sold in South Africa in the early 1990s, just as Toyota launched its Lexus luxury car range locally.
Infiniti was one of the products developed by the Japanese motor industry in the l980s to enable it to expand volume potential with a dedicated luxury brand. Honda had led the way with its Acura range in 1986 and then both Nissan and Toyota followed three years later with Infiniti and Lexus respectively.
The major target market for all these models was the US, but as that market has endured some downturns and tough times both Infiniti and Lexus have gone international on a large scale, with Acura not being so adventurous in this regard.
Carlos Ghosn, the human dynamo that drives both Renault and Nissan/Infiniti, has ambitious growth plans for his brands, which includes Infiniti increasing its annual sales from the 146000 sold last year to at least 500000 by the 2016-17 financial year; Lexus already sells in the region of 500000 cars a year, with Acura selling similar volumes to Infiniti at about 150000 units a year.
Currently Infiniti is sold in 47 countries. Now the target is to get it into at least 23 additional markets so as to achieve the sales volume target.
According to the company's vice-president for Africa, the Middle East, India and Europe, Bernard Loire: "This is just the beginning of a structured move into more African countries. We see future growth coming from the emerging markets, particularly the Brics grouping, and that is where we are putting a lot of effort as we are already seeing strong sales potential in countries like China and Russia."
The brand intends on making full use in South Africa of its links with Red Bull F1 and Sebastian Vettel, but it was also clear at the launch that it intends leveraging its cooperative agreement with Daimler, which could see upcoming Infinitis sharing platforms, engines and the like with Mercedes-Benz models.
The DNA of the Infiniti brand is seen as the experience one enjoys when hospitality is welcoming, but following the slogan of "Inspired Performance", the various vehicles are also sporty in nature and very individualistic in their styling.
Now to the various models themselves. The range-topping FX is a large SUV, with a choice of a 5l V8 (287kW and 500Nm), 3.7l V6 petrol engine (235kW and 360Nm) or a high performance 3l V6 diesel (175kW and 550Nm). The EX is a compact SUV, while the G coupe and steel-roofed G cabriolet are sporty two-doors and the M is a performance sedan.
All models have an intelligent seven-speed automatic transmission, with the choice of the 3.7l V6 petrol engine or the 3l turbo diesel in the EX and M models, while the G coupe and cabrio are powered by the 3.7l.
As mentioned earlier we only drove the diesel and V8 petrol FX models. The overriding impression was of solidity, quiet sophistication and a hardish ride as befits a car with outstanding roadholding and handling characteristics. Fit and finish was top class, as one would expect of a contender in this category of vehicle and the interior space and equipment level was excellent. The high point was the amazing power delivery and quiet operation of the diesel-powered derivative.
Leading the charge against targeted rivals from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Porsche is George Stegmann, a person who has served in a number of positions at Nissan SA since 1989. The sales target for 2012 will be 250 units in the next six months, with a major focus on building brand awareness.
Infiniti will be retailed initially through two dedicated centres, one in Hatfield, Pretoria, and the other in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. Others will follow in Pinetown and Cape Town with further dealer roll-outs in the future.
All models have a three-year/100000km warranty with roadside assistance and a five-year/100000km maintenance plan.
G coupe R616000-R671878
G cabrio R699000