Monday, October 31, 2016


The big news from Milano this week, as reported by AUTOWEEK and AUTOMOTIVE NEWS EUROPE is that FCA has scheduled the launch of a wagon version of the new Giulia for the end of 2018 in Europe.

On the Continent wagons account for more than 40% of sales, so Alfa Romeo needs to have a competent entrant in that segment, considering sedans make up barely 30% of sales.

The last Arese-built wagon to pull in big sales in Europe was the very pretty Giugiaro-designed Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon.

There's no doubt this rendering of the Quadrifoglio version looks the business.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Let me say straight up, I think this is a great car. It looks striking, it goes well, it’s beautifully built and well-equipped. And, pricing is competitive. But, is it really an Infiniti?

Well, no. Basically, the Infiniti Q30 and its crossover 4WD twin, the QX30, are born from a marriage between the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler AG. These new Infinitis are based almost totally on the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

An embarrassment for Infiniti or Mercedes-Benz? No way. In fact the marriage of convenience answers two issues.

First, the GLA is not a major make-or-break car for Daimler AG. It exists solely because there’s the hardware available to make it happen; but second, it’s a great fit for Infiniti, giving Nissan’s premium brand a new, lower-priced entrant in the market.

Also, Daimler’s not stupid. The GLA hardly sells any numbers worth mentioning in the USA, and any added sales coming from this JV will certainly be welcome revenue for the German giant. Another subtle difference, is that in the USA, Infiniti will only sell the AWD QX30 – not the FWD Q30 hatch.

However, there are significant differences, which definitely impart a different personality and brand image to Infiniti’s new compact luxury car.

You can’t help noticing the striking exterior sheet metal, created by a Cuban-American, who has lived in Japan for more than a decade, Alfonso Albaisa. Thanks to him, the Q30 really stands out on a crowded highway.

Also, Infiniti chose to create not only an all-new interior design, but it insisted on some unique touches. It specified the centre console transmission shifter from the GLA AMG 45, rather than Mercedes-Benz’s regular column-lever.

Then it fitted Nissan’s easy-to-use InTouch AV/GPS/Bluetooth system, and designed the IP (instrument panel), so the screen could live under a trimmed cowl, rather than stand out like an iPad glued to the dash like its Mercedes-Benz donor car.

Next, the audio system, by BOSE. What a great-sounding system. That’s a must when optioning a Q30/QX30.

The Q30/QX30s are built entirely at Nissan’s Sunderland plant in Britain, a decision which demanded an investment of more than USD$305 million.

The strategy mostly aims to increase the number of Infiniti cars sold in Europe, where it has performed poorly over the last ten years.

The Q30/QX30 should be well-received in Europe because of its alignment with European tastes, and pricing, which will be well below comparable pricing for the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

However, Infiniti’s revitalized thrust into Europe highlights again the difficulties Nissan has faced with expanding the Infiniti brand outside the USA.

A source close to the Renault-Nissan Alliance told me the major reason why Infiniti has failed to click worldwide is that Nissan has never made a truly serious attempt at funding a global strategy. Its attempts to enter markets like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Japan have floundered through lack of appropriate marketing budgets, lack of focus, and a poorly-chosen model range.

Since the demise of the Q45, which was aimed solely at the US market, too many Infiniti models have been poorly-disguised Nissan cars. A classic example was the Infiniti G20, which buyers recognized instantly as a rebadged Nissan Primera.

The Q30/QX30 program appears to be a more focused and serious change of tactics for Nissan. As such, I believe it has made both a bold, and a brilliant choice. Because Infiniti’s crossover looks so striking, and has excellent performance credentials I think it will be a hit wherever it is sold.

This car is vital to Infiniti. The crossover market is hot around the world right now, especially so in the USA, where Infiniti needs to make a bigger impact.

If Infiniti puts a decent marketing program together for Europe, which it could roll out as a template for ROW markets, then it will create a path for future models from the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler joint venture – like the new premium compact sedan, which will be built in Mexico, sold as an Infiniti and a Mercedes-Benz, and launched in 2018. 
But for now, after a couple of weeks with the Q30S (2.0L turbo petrol) in my driveway, I must say I really enjoy driving it. It is comfortable, imparts a feeling of style and luxury, and the panel fit, and trim margins are excellent.
Nothing to see here folks. That's a Mercedes-Benz engine under all that plastic!

A big pat on the back to the workers in the UK who put it together.

My last comment is a warning to Nissan Australia. In fact Nissan anywhere! Don’t undersell the potential Q30 has to lift Infiniti brand recognition.

This car deserves a dedicated marketing budget, a well-planned marketing strategy, and a continued flow of resources to keep at the front of buyers’ minds.

Anything less, and the Q30 will simply not achieve the potential it represents.


According to the Oxford dictionary infinity is listed as a noun and informs:
‘The state or quality of being infinite’ eg: “the infinity of space”

Synonyms include: endlessness; boundlessness; limitless; vastness; infinite distance.

Okay, now let’s turn to Nissan’s version – INFINITI.

In my opinion this loosely translates into the following:

‘Starting in 1989, throwing endless squillions of Yen/Dollars at a car (the Q45) derived from an ageing Nissan President platform, fitted with an outstanding V8 engine, with styling inspired by Italian furniture designer Poltrona Frau, and a new identity, to engage in pursuit of Toyota’s Lexus division’.

The INFINITI exercise to me is an example of: ‘Toyota has a luxury line, we should have one too’. However, despite outstanding attention to producing excellent powertrains, high technology equipment, high quality audio systems and keen pricing, Infiniti has never achieved the expectations Nissan had for the brand. It has undoubtedly resulted in becoming a process of squandering an infinite amount of money chasing a dream.

Infiniti sales in the USA, its prime target market, peaked in 2005 at 136, 400 cars, but has slowly declined since then.

Eiji Toyoda
My interpretation of the Infiniti conundrum lies in the fundamental differences between the ‘culture’ of both Toyota and Nissan. Eiji Toyoda (left) pursued a strictly defined strategy for Lexus, whereas I am not sure Nissan had a totally clear vision of what it wanted Infiniti to be, what it should represent and most importantly just how it would define and prosecute a strategy for its luxury division. Also, Infiniti never had a ‘champion’ within the Nissan corporation, in the way Mr. Toyoda drove the Lexus concept.

Carlos Ghosn
It could be said that the President of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, Carlos Ghosn, is Infiniti’s ‘champion’ – but there were many other fires for Carlos to fight, the major one in 1999, when Nissan teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and was only rescued when Ghosn convinced the Nissan Board to agree to form the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

In 2000 CAR AND DRIVER reported that Infiniti executives in the USA invited the automotive media to a press conference, vowing: “We will never again take our eyes off BMW.”

Infiniti G35
Okay, so BMW is really Infiniti’s benchmark competitor. So how is it doing against one of Europe’s mightiest brands? Despite the huge sales success of the Infiniti G35 (winning MOTOR TREND’S ‘Car of the Year’), Infiniti has never achieved its stated aim.

So these days the question you must ask is, is it really worth whatever Nissan spends on trying to interest luxury car buyers in the cars and SUVs Infiniti offers? Maybe that ship has sailed.

But wait! Is that a faint glimmer of commonsense I see appearing at the end of a large black hole?

There may be a truly insightful and pragmatic approach to making the Infiniti division become profitable, or at least financially able to wash its face.

Enter the Infiniti Q30 compact hatchback. Okay, it’s really a Mercedes-Benz GLA with a fresh face, new clothes, and a great Bose audio system. But, it is definitely a way of introducing high-class brand values on a new model line for a lot less investment.

Especially the cost-sapping components like powertrains, brakes and suspension, not to mention basic design and engineering that went into the original GL A.

In addition, I know we will see this joint venture morph into a plan for Renault-Nissan and Daimler to share architecture and powertrains on even more future new models. The recent announcement of a 50:50 joint venture between the partners in a new manufacturing facility in Aguascalientes, Mexico is the most promising sign.
Already, the partners have confirmed the Mexican plant will produce a range of premium compact vehicles for both Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti brands.

Infiniti’s Q50 and Q70 sedans, plus its Infiniti SUVs, currently use an architecture known internally as FM (for Front Midships), which was developed from Infiniti’s original Nissan donor platforms, such as Nissan Qashqai (Q50) and Nissan Fuga (Q70). As the FM platform runs up to its use-by date, it will be interesting to see what develops from Infiniti’s marriage with Daimler AG.

My Stuttgart mole tells me talks have been ongoing for some time between the partners, which could see the new premium compact car to come from the Mexican plant in 2018 being a replacement for the Mercedes-Benz CLA-class sedan, and Infiniti Q50.

Already disguised prototypes, shadowed by a Mercedes CLA-class sedan have been spotted road testing.

Let’s face it, at some stage the boys in the boardroom at Nissan in Tokyo have got to question continually throwing infinite amounts of money trying sustain its Lexus-like luxury brand.

The Year-to-Date Infiniti brand sales for the end of September 2016 in North America were 96,775 units, a paltry 1.3% improvement over 2015.

Sure, Infiniti was a brand developed purely for the US market in the early 90s, and it has been selling the cars worldwide for the last ten years or so, but Infiniti’s global sales are abysmal. Infiniti needs something, but maybe more than a shot in the arm. 
The agreement between the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler to build the new X-class Mercedes-Benz pickup, off the Nissan NP300 body-chassis, is promising, and shows just how cosy this marriage has become.

As we’ve seen with other major joint ventures and co-operation I’ve written about over past weeks, like Toyota-Suzuki, Subaru-Toyota, Mazda and Fiat Chrysler, this business of combining strengths is definitely the only way these huge car companies will survive.

But, is Nissan content to just sell about 250,000 Infinitis a year globally? To match the big players (like BMW) and move up to the one million plus mark will take a lot of dedicated effort, and as my (former) Renault-Nissan Alliance source tells me: “Their heart is just not in it to stretch that far.”

Therefore I remain convinced that there must be a limit to how long we will see Infiniti remain in the marketplace. 
Perhaps the alliance between Renault-Nissan and Daimler is its only lifeline to existence.

For me, Infiniti is an expensive and fruitless extravagance. You might even say, Nissan’s folly.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Back in 1999, when the dust finally settled on the contentious VW/BMW/Rolls-Royce/Bentley acquisition, BMW’s Chairman Berndt Pischestrieder asked Ferdinand Piech if VWAG would ‘manage’ the Rolls-Royce brand until 2001 – and by then BMW AG would have worked out how it was going to deal with the new marque being added to is stable, almost accidentally.

Berndt Pischetsrieder and
Ferdinand Piech
The way it happened was that the then owner of Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars, the British armaments and aeronautical conglomerate Vickers plc, decided to sell just Bentley Motors to VWAG; and because Vickers had a joint venture with BMW Aerospace, it decided to sell the Rolls-Royce car division to BMW AG – no doubt as a spiteful response to Piech’s aggressive takeover tactics.

As PR Director for North America for Bentley Motors, I had to split my PR resources for three years across the two marques, to ensure we could hand over Rolls-Royce in good order and condition. The last event I hosted, was the presentation of the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph ‘Last of Line’ (below).
Once BMW AG accepted responsibility for the ongoing care and feeding of the Flying Lady, I washed my hands of all connections, but kept a very keen eye on what the German carmaker was doing to preserve and promote the brand. After all, Rolls-Royce was now a competitor to Bentley, not a stablemate.

It became clear from the start that BMW AG was taking its new marque very seriously indeed, and despite some extensive window dressing (like basing the new Phantom on the BMW 7-series; and building a new facility at Goodwood, Surrey, to carry out just the final assembly on British soil), BMW threw literally millions of Euros at showing how serious it was about Rolls-Royce.
BMW had already captured the famous Mini brand, and was certainly doing very well with that British icon, and it was clearly not going to undersell its commitment to Rolls-Royce.

Over the years BMW has invested even more money, in new models, like Phantom, Ghost, Wraith and Dawn.

It has also developed unique architecture for the cars, new engines, and innovative new interiors and features.

The latest fashion statement is a series of unique trims, including the convertible tops for the latest Dawn drop-top.

BMW AG has, in my opinion, done a marvelous and high integrity job of ensuring appropriate levels of investments for one of the oldest and most respected names in automotive history. The funds have not been wasted.

Despite low sales volumes, BMW has ensured Rolls-Royce retains a unique and individual identity and created a loyal following among a new breed of Rolls-Royce customers. 

BMW is to be highly commended for treating the revered name of Rolls-Royce with the dignity and respect it duly deserves – despite what some may see as an anachronistic reflection of a dated name.

Well done, BMW, take a bow, for putting your money where your mouth is, and banking on Rolls-Royce as its flagship marque.