Auto blogMon, 14 Oct 2013
Ever hear that the best stuff is saved for export? Just ask Japanese luxury car buyers. It's been decades since Japan's largest automakers set out to take on Europe's finest with dedicated luxury brands of their own, but they have kept those brands largely out of their own domestic market and sold them almost exclusively overseas. But that's beginning to change.
In 2005 Toyota launched the Lexus brand - which it had been exporting since 1989 - in Japan. Honda reportedly planned on bringing its Acura brand to its home market just a few years later, but ended up delaying the move. Now Nissan is reportedly preparing to launch the Infiniti lineup in its own backyard.
This according to a report published in the Japanese business daily Nikkei and now making the rounds of the English-language press. The plan apparently involves offering at least part of the Infiniti model line in domestic Nissan dealers, holding off for the time being on launching a separate dealer network in Japan.
The end of qualifying for the 2013 Korean Formula One Grand Prix left us with five pairs: two chassis each from Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Mercedes-AMG Petronas, Lotus, Ferrari and Sauber. Yes, Sauber. The last time the Swiss team had two drivers in the top ten was Japan last year, when Kamui Kobayashi converted the grid spot into a podium.
But let's start at the front of the top ten, where Sebastian Vettel put his Red Bull on pole for the 42nd time in his career. He was followed by Lewis Hamilton in second place by two-tenths of a second, Mark Webber in the second Infiniti Red Bull, and Romain Grosjean in the Lotus in fourth. Out-qualifying teammate Kimi Räikkönen again, the Finn would line up in tenth. Nico Rosberg put the second Mercedes in fifth, Fernando Alonso got the first Ferrari into sixth ahead of teammate Felipe Massa, while Nico Hülkenberg led with the first Sauber in eighth, teammate Esteban Gutiérrez showing the promise he was hired for (okay, and his money) in ninth. Except they'd all move up a place because Webber had to serve his ten-place grid penalty after getting his third reprimand of the season in Singapore. That would get Sergio Perez in his McLaren into tenth. Yes, McLaren needed a grid demotion ahead to make it into the top ten.
It was an entertaining top ten that no one would have expected. When the red lights went out, we were treated to one of the most entertaining races of the year - it was Gangnam Style at 300 kilometers per hour.
What's in a name? This cliched phrase probably gets tossed out at every marketing meeting that happens when a new car gets its nomenclature. We know the answer, though: everything. The name of a car has all the potential to make or break it with fickle customers that are more conscious than ever about what their purchases say about them.
That's giving headaches to marketing folks across the automotive industry. "It's tough. In 1985 there were about 75,000 names trademarked in the automotive space. Today there are 800,000," Chevrolet's head of marketing, Russ Clark, told Automotive News. Infiniti's president, Johan de Nysschen, echoed Clark's sentiment, saying, "The truth of the matter is, across the world, there is hardly a name or a letter that hasn't already been claimed by one car manufacturer or another. You can go through the alphabet - A, B, C and so forth - and you will quickly see that almost all available letters are taken."
What has that left automakers to do? Get creative. In the case of Infiniti, it made the controversial move to bring all of its cars' names into a new scheme, classifying them as Q#0 for cars and QX#0 for SUVs and crossovers. So the Infiniti G, which was available as the G25 and G37, is now the Q50. The FX37 and FX50 are now the QX70.
Nissan is issuing a massive recall that will see the Japanese automaker repair 908,900 vehicles worldwide, with nearly 100,000 of the affected models in the United States. While an official recall notice from Nissan or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is not yet available, Reuters has been able to confirm the recall with Nissan.
Nissan's recall is kind of the opposite of the Toyota unintended acceleration, in that it covers a lack of acceleration. According to the report, a sensor in the gas pedal can develop faults, leading to a sluggish acceleration or an outright stall regardless of how much throttle the driver dials in. The huge recall covers mostly Japanese domestic models like the Serena, X-Trail, Lafesta and Fuga, which make up for 764,800 of the 908,900 faulty vehicles. However, 98,300 Infiniti M sedans are being recalled in the US, although it's unclear at this time which model years and trims are affected. The remaining vehicles are found in Europe and Oceania, according to Nissan spokesman Chris Keefe.
No injuries or accidents have been reported due to the faults. The 90-minute repair will see techs replace the accelerator pedal and tweak the engine control programs. We'll update this story as soon as Nissan or NHTSA makes an official statement.
The Singapore Formula One Grand Prix is the Monaco GP of the Orient - a weekend known more for its glamour and time-slot than on-track action, with a temporary circuit that punishes every mistake, usually terminally.
Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas got the best of Free Practice 1, opening the curtain on a possible resurgence of Silver Arrows performance. By the time qualifying was done, though, it was his teammate Nico Rosberg who lined up second on the grid, followed by Romain Grosjean with a beautiful performance in the Lotus, Mark Webber in the Infiniti Red Bull, and Hamilton all the way back in fifth. Behind them were Felipe Massa outqualifying Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button getting the McLaren into eighth, Daniel Ricciardo with another good Q3 effort to get into ninth, and the shocker of Esteban Gutiérrez getting his Sauber into the top ten for the first time this year.
At the front of the pack was Sebastian Vettel. Again. But he was only ahead of Rosberg by a single tenth of a second...
Nissan launched Infiniti back in 1989 as a US brand, but more recently, Nissan's luxury marque has started focusing on more of a global presence. With a new global headquarters set up in Hong Kong and former Audi bigwig Johan de Nysschen at the helm, Wards Auto is reporting that the automaker's next goal is to create a "de-Americanized" lineup of vehicles.
This plan essentially consists of smaller cars and smaller-displacement engines to make Infiniti more attractive for buyers in Europe and Asia - two regions that tend to skew more toward smaller vehicles and smaller powerplants. To this point, Infiniti has been focused on vehicles better-suited to the US market - in fact, its smallest engine is a 3.7-liter V6 with 330 horsepower, and it doesn't offer a single diesel.
The first step in this transformation will be part of the Daimler-Nissan engine deal that will see a four-cylinder diesel eventually used in the 2014 Q50, but the report also reconfirms the importance of the soon-to-arrive Q30 production model (a concept of which was revealed last week in Frankfurt), along with the idea of a QX30 based on the Nissan Qashqai. There's also the latest projection of a full-electric Infiniti model that Wards says will debut sometime around 2015. Of course, Infiniti isn't giving up on large cars entirely - the reports indicates that Infiniti is planning a fullsize flagship model - possibly named Q80 - to compete against German sedans like the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The Circuit of the Americas will host its second United States Grand Prix in November, and based on what's happening with New Jersey it might be the only US torch left alight in the Formula One firmament. The story even before the inaugural event was about getting American fans involved, and Infiniti appears to be making the first splash this year with a competition to design Sebastian Vettel's helmet for the first two days of race weekend.
The only thing required of the graphic designer within you is to head to the competition site, download the helmet template and slather it in your unique technicolor vision. It will require some thought to make something interesting, though, since much of the helmet is already committed to team and sponsor logos; other than a few thin strips along the sides, your creativity will be confined to the oval atop the shell. Vettel will choose the winner and will wear the selected lid during the free practices and qualifying.
The grand prize winner will also get a VIP trip for two to the grand prix as a guest of Infiniti, which includes some face time with the triple world champion himself. The contest is on now, the deadline for entries is 11:59 pm GMT (6:59 EST), Sunday, September 29th and the winner is chosen the very next day. There's a press release below with more info if you want the complete skinny before putting stylus to digital paper.
When people ask us what car we would recommend for them, it's usually not easy to answer. To make a useful recommendation we must consider which of the numerous vehicle segments fits their needs best, and then choose one of the many vehicles offered in each segment. For some people, new cars don't meet their expectations of value, because they lose so much of it the moment they are purchased and driven off the dealer lot. For them, there's always the used-car market, where great deals can be found, but cars' histories of reliability and maintenance records - and perhaps that Certified Pre-Owned warranty - become ever-important factors playing into purchase choice.
To help out, Edmunds has done us the favor of assembling a list of the best used vehicles money can buy, covering model years 2006-2011, according to what it considers the most important criteria when shopping for used autos: reliability, safety, value and availability. That means unreliable, unsafe, super-expensive or limited-edition models don't appear on the list, but instead cars from each segment that are more likely to satisfy the general population.
There are some real goodies on the list, including but not limited to vehicles such as the capable Honda Fit, the cultish Honda Accord coupe (which can be had with a 240-horsepower V6 and a six-speed manual transmission some years), and the powerful Chevrolet Corvette. While Edmunds' choice of the Volvo C70 for best used convertible baffled us at first (not that it's a bad car), it redeemed itself by stating that the Mazda MX-5 still is an unofficial top choice if you don't require more than two seats.
When we first got official word of the Infiniti Q30 Concept, the Japanese automaker said that the crossover's "harmonious contrasts and dissymmetric philosophy" would "make an emotional connection with customers spontaneously." Now, we might not be heads of design studios or directors of marketing departments, but we're pretty sure we can translate that to: "The production Q30 will compete with the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class."
In all seriousness (if we can say that of a concept car painted a sort of rose metallic), the Q30 concept looks fetching here in Frankfurt; its rather convoluted and flowing bodywork just carried off successfully because of its grownup hatchback proportions and, frankly, huge wheels. The Q30 could seemingly slot into the current, attractive Infiniti range of production cars and not look amiss (though we'd prefer a color palette that looks a little less like Grandma's sitting room sofa).
Look above for our live images of the Infiniti Q30 Concept from the show floor in Frankfurt, below for stock pictures of the thing, or scroll down to re-read the breathless press release.
The curtain has officially been raised on the Infiniti Q30 Concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show, an oft-teased five-door hatchback that will move the neo-luxury brand downmarket to compete with the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class. Not only is Infiniti moving down market, it's targeting a younger audience, a field that it hasn't traditionally played in, that wants something different than a hum-drum luxury car. According to Infiniti's marketing director, Hugues Fabre, "Younger customers are coming into the premium segment with their own attitude toward premium-ness."
Infiniti's trademark styling elements are on full display here, from the radically kinked C-pillar and Q50-inspired headlights and grille, to the dramatic character lines on the profile. In the cabin, it looks like an extraterrestrial disco, with a lot of violet lighting, bronzed touchpoints and creamy leather. Ignore the concept car tinsel, though, and you'll see that Infiniti is dead serious when it says the Q30 foreshadows a production model.
We'll have plenty more of the Infiniti Q30, including live images from the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show floor, very soon. Until then, click over to our Frankfurt coverage page, scroll down for a full press release on the Q30, or click over to the high-res gallery.