Infiniti has been enjoying record sales in Europe, but the company still has a way to go before the brand becomes recognized as a rival to the more established premium carmakers. But while the German three (Audi, BMW and Mercedes) have a strong lineage from which to pull ideas from and reference in their next generation of products, this could also be seen as a hindrance to moving the brand forward.
“We’re building foundations of the brand,” says Infiniti’s UK-based exterior design director Matt Weaver. “There’s no checklist. The lack of heritage gives us freedom. We can be authentic without being bogged down.”
This can be seen as a liberating holy grail for designers but it’s also a challenge, albeit one that can be solved through creativity and innovation.
Concept vehicles such as the Q80 Inspiration, Q60, Q30 and QX30 are a clear indication of a brand that is putting design at the forefront, but there are a number of other products in the pipeline, some of which are currently being actively designed at the luxury brand’s new design center in London that opened late last year.
The key message in these vehicles is one of uniqueness, something that speaks to a person’s sensibilities and that they can’t get from another luxury carmaker.
“We have a clear mandate to illustrate we are different to everyone else, which is not easy in this crowded market,” says Infiniti’s UK design director Simon Cox, highlighting one of the more successful products in the current Infiniti lineup. “The QX70 has been doing that. It’s a stand out product for the brand.”
He is right of course. When the QX70 (nee FX) first hit the road it looked like a concept car had rolled off the production line. The segment-busting vehicle (designed by Mamoru Aoki at Nissan’s Atsugi studio in 2001) was the first vehicle to successfully marry an SUV with a coupe roofline. It set the trend that other automaker’s followed, and over a decade later manufacturers are still clamoring to put one of their own into the range.
Clearly, to take Infiniti to the next level and make waves in the saturated and highly competitive European market the brand needs to create more of these individual products. But the passenger who turns left upon boarding an aircraft didn’t just buy himself a first class ticket, he bought an experience, and that’s Infiniti’s ambition as well.
“We’re doing things differently from an experience perspective and tailor our products,” Cox said, “[this is] how can we differentiate from the German three.”
This of course means the products will feature more personalization options to enable the consumer to individualize their purchase, but it also means a level of interaction with the product that’s superior to the competition. Infiniti’s ‘tailored experience’ will need to start from the online configurator, extend through to the dealer and servicing networks and ultimately be represented within the vehicle itself.
To that end, it is the designers who are driving this differentiation. Within the design studio, Infiniti’s design team is now separated from their Nissan counterparts in order to feel and think about true luxury without blurring the lines between conventional transport and a premium product. Their inspiration comes from sources far removed from the automotive world.