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Infiniti’s Naming Pivot: The 2014 Infiniti Q50 and what it means for the brand

Infiniti recently announced it’s new Q50 sedan at the North America International Auto Show (Detroit). As a former owner of this model of sedan, I was very anxious to see what the new version would bring to the table. There is plenty, but the thing that has most captured my attention is the name. If you’ve never heard of Infiniti Q50, don’t feel left out because I hadn’t either. It is the new name for their G-series sedan.

 

    Infiniti Q50 front

 

What’s in a Name?
My car was a 2005 Infiniti G35 that I bought in 2005 and drove for almost 8 years, selling it just this past month. The G35 name helped identify where it fit in the Infiniti lineup. The G was smaller than the M or the Q and sat in the Near-Luxury segment. My G35 hosted a 3.5L 6-cylinder engine. More recent models were named G37 since the engine was upgraded to a 3.7L version. They also introduced an economy option for recent years named G25 with a smaller 2.5L engine. Thus, the number in the name helped identify how powerful the engine would be.

 

Why Q50? What does it mean?
It seems the effort is to simplify the naming for Infiniti models. All of the models will start with Q for cars and QX for SUV and Crossover models. The number will line up with the segment or pricing tier. Only the Q50 is formally announced so far. Most of the others will just receive a typical refresh along with renaming as they show up in their 2014 form. The chart below shows the current model name, segment and the future 2014 model name, in order of base model MSRP.

 

Infiniti Grid

 

What do I expect now?
From a branding and product naming perspective, I can see that they are correcting the misalignment of the FX-series currently which is priced higher than Gseries or JX-series which are named with higher letters. Also, I can’t help but notice that they are echoing the naming of some other luxury brands that have similarly moved away from engine displacement or cylinders in their naming conventions, such as Audi and BMW. The QX60 will be competing with the Audi Q6, the BMW X6, and the Volvo QC60. It’s pretty easy to see that the Infiniti naming will help reveal and reflect this matchup.

 

Is this decision made in the Office of Redundancy Department?
One of the things that bothers me is the use of Q for all of the models. I think they are trying to bring the goodwill that their Q-series sedan has enjoyed as the flagship to all of their models. The problem is that it now serves no purpose in distinguishing between the models. So only the ‘X’ and the numbers will help at all. So, the Q becomes redundant except as an identifier for Infiniti. Yet, Audi, Volvo, and others use Q in their own model names.

 

And, even the number is much less meaningful from a product perspective. It does help line the products up in order of price, but it tells you nothing of the powertrain or any other characteristic of the product.

 

I’m afraid that starting over with new naming scheme after 23 years of history will confuse customers. It will all just sound like a random series of letters and numbers to those who don’t take time to study the whole product line in context. In fact, I would rather see them use REAL names so that you can easily remember the name, share the name, talk about the name, and remember the name. Also, over time, names can evoke a past and heritage that initials and numbers struggle to convey. Names like “Stingray”, “Beetle”, “Cobra”, “Woodie” and many, many others instantly etch an image in the minds of us long-time auto enthusiasts. In mobile phones, we have rapidly tried to grab and use names to build brand recognition where there are new products every year. The auto industry has a lot of legacy and long product cycles, so names can build and grow over an even greater time.

 

How do they introduce new models?
It also seems that they have not left any room to add other models into the mix. What if they need to add one of the exciting concepts, like the Infiniti Etherea or Infiniti Emerg-E concepts from their website (see http://www.infiniti.com/us/models/future_models/). Currently, all of the models are separated by nice even multiples of 10 without gaps. That won’t last, so eventually they’ll end up with a messy spread of numbers. I would expect them to struggle not to oversell new models by implying a higher segment placement than they warrant.
Infiniti Etherea
Infiniti Etherea Concept

 

Infiniti EmergE
Infiniti Emerg-E Concept

 

Did they pivot in just name or also strategy?
I guess my real concern as I reviewed this, and captured my thoughts here, is that Infiniti is really changing their naming scheme so that they can change their product strategy. Infiniti has always been about performance and luxury. Thus, using the engine displacement in the model name helped distinguish an Infiniti from the competing models from other luxury brands. G35 was upgraded to G37 and you knew that the raw power also increased. An M56 has a measurable advantage over an M37 in performance. I understand the reality that cars are not just about raw horsepower or engine displacement anymore. There is much pressure to improve fuel economy and efficiency and Infiniti wants to capitalize on that trend. They plan to release as many as 15 hybrid models by 2016. I just hope they don’t lose the essence of their brand identity in the process.

 

Of course, the technology package that is featured in the new Q50 seems to be a good sign that there is plenty more to distinguish an Infiniti than just raw performance. The dual touch-screen center console interface looks like a step in the right direction. Bring on the future of Infiniti…

 

Infiniti Q50 interior


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