by Tony Whitney

It doesn’t seem like fifteen years since Nissan launched the very first product from its Infiniti division, the Q45. Infiniti was formed as an upscale vehicle segment of Nissan, just as Acura and Lexus were designated the upscale divisions of Honda and Toyota.

Initially, some critics were sceptical, stating rather bluntly that at least one or two of the three luxury divisions would never make it. They’ve been proven wrong, and at the moment all three divisions are flourishing, although Infiniti had the hardest struggle.

It was no easy task launching a brand new nameplate – after all, some automakers have problems marketing even long-lived brands, and a few, including Oldsmobile, have fallen by the wayside in recent years.

2001 Infiniti QX4
2001 Infiniti QX4

1999 Infiniti G20
1999 Infiniti G20

1997 Infiniti I30
1997 Infiniti I30

1997 Infiniti J30
1997 Infiniti J30

1999 Infiniti Q45
1999 Infiniti Q45

2003 Infiniti FX45
2003 Infiniti FX45
Click image to enlarge

Interestingly, Mazda once contemplated the idea of a spin-off luxury brand – Amati – and even put out press releases complete with logos and conceptualizations of dramatic-looking vehicles. Ultimately, the project was shelved and Mazda went on to create luxury vehicles, such as the 929 and Millenia, without a special badge to distinguish them.

The reason the Japanese “Big Three” went to luxury nameplates was fairly simple. The Japanese auto industry believed that Americans and Canadians identified nameplates like Toyota, Nissan and Honda with economy rather than luxury. Acura and Infiniti were aimed solely at the North American market while Lexus was offered in several countries.

Back in 1990, I remember driving an early production Infiniti Q45 in Japan just before the vehicle was launched and being amazed by its refinement, V8 power and luxurious appointments. Here at last was a large Japanese sedan to rival the products of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Lincoln. The only criticism I can recall was that the Q45’s big nose-mounted metal badge looked, to some eyes, like a rodeo cowboy’s belt buckle.

At the start, Infiniti offered just two vehicles – the Q45 and a small sports sedan, the G20. Then there was the interesting J30 with its rounded bodywork, the short-lived M30 mid-size sedan, and the I30 sedan. Curiously enough, it was the QX4 mid-sized SUV, based on the Nissan Pathfinder, that really boosted Infiniti’s sales.

Infiniti started with just 12 dealers across Canada and in its first year of operation, Infiniti sold a modest 1,121 cars. Nowadays, there are 29 Infiniti dealers in Canada and they contribute towards annual sales of around 8,000 vehicles. Infiniti’s best year was 2003, when just under 9,000 units rolled off the dealer lots.

The current product line-up includes the G35 sedan, G35x sedan with AWD, G35 Coupe, M35/M45 sedans (M35 available with AWD) and the flagship Q45 large sedan. On the SUV front, Infiniti builds the dramatic FX 35 and FX 45 – two of the most striking utility vehicles from any automaker. Top of the SUV range is the full-size QX 56 which competes in a market that includes products like the Range Rover and the big Lexus, Cadillac and Lincoln luxury rigs.

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