Infiniti's new EV mission is chance to reshape product plan

Infiniti's new EV mission is chance to reshape product plan

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The Project Black S prototype, revealed last week in Paris, “is the beginning of our drive into electrification,” said Infiniti President Roland Krüger.

Roland Krüger gets testy when anybody suggests that the product pipeline isn’t humming right now at Infiniti.

“We’re doing everything we’ve said we would,” Krüger, president of Infiniti Motor Co., assured Automotive News last week during the Paris auto show. “We have some big things coming.”

To the naked eye, at least, the premium brand has been in rebuilding mode of late. At a time when the market can’t seem to get enough crossovers, Infiniti dropped its QX70 crossover last year. And while the industry is abuzz over electrification, Infiniti has discontinued its hybrid offerings.

And some watchers are asking why Infiniti never went ahead with the showstopping 550-hp Q50 Eau Rouge halo concept it unveiled four years ago, before Krüger replaced Johan de Nysschen as president.

Krüger: “Big things coming”

But Krüger is now knee-deep in a mission that will overturn Infiniti’s product plans in the coming five to 10 years. And little by little, the company is tipping its hand to reveal the changes.

They are significant.

Last week, during the Paris show, Infiniti revealed a running prototype called the Project Black S. It is a Q60 sports coupe-based mashup of Infiniti powertrains and Renault Sport Formula One Team racing engineering.

Krüger announced it will have the world’s first “dual-hybrid technology,” turning Infiniti’s 400-hp VR30 twin-turbo V-6 engine into an estimated 563-hp electrified power source. The system is undergoing track testing and relies on one motor generator to develop electricity under acceleration and another to generate electricity under braking.

“This is the beginning of our drive into electrification,” Krüger said. “The company is working on new technologies and new platform solutions. This is part of showcasing what electrification can do for the product and for the brand.”

Indeed, Hiroto Saikawa, CEO of Infiniti’s parent company, Nissan Motor Co., announced this year that Infiniti will transform into an electric brand. Starting in 2021, every new Infiniti model will be either a battery EV or have another electrified powertrain.

That mission has Infiniti’s product plans churning.

“The new electric platform is an opportunity to rethink shapes and proportions,” Krüger said. “We will have battery-electric vehicles. Infiniti is part of the world’s biggest electric vehicle maker, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.”

The 10

The Paris reveal followed quick on the heels of another product unveiling in August in Pebble Beach, Calif. — Infiniti’s Prototype 10, an all-electric one-seat performance car concept.

The 10 was sketched by Infiniti’s London studio and then finished in San Diego under the direction of global design director Karim Habib, the former head of BMW design who was recruited to Infiniti last year.

Infiniti’s Karim Habib, left, with the Prototype 10: “This is what we wanted to do, and we did it.”

The vehicle is strikingly odd at first glance, with its solitary seat in an open cockpit and a looming large rear fin behind the driver’s head.

“This is a speedster,” Habib said in explaining the car in California. “We made it clear from the beginning that this is what we wanted to do, and we did it.”

But equally important, it is intended to be electric, he said, without providing powertrain details.

“The new technology that’s coming requires a new thinking about design,” Habib said. “The real justification is that the technology is changing.”

As shocking as the Prototype 10 appeared in late August, just weeks later, Ferrari unveiled a model that could have passed for its brother, the single-seat, open cockpit Monza SP1.

Words

Krüger and Infiniti’s designers and planners are careful about how they refer to their new product exercises. In January, the company showcased the Q Inspiration Concept, a luxurious midsize sedan imagined with autonomous-oriented controls and a roomy interior made possible by a smaller electrified powertrain.

Krüger said it was called Inspiration to make it clear that it will “inspire” future models — not necessarily be one of them.

At the Beijing auto show in April, Infiniti told the audience that it will indeed build a vehicle that is inspired by the Q Inspiration.

But the models that will emerge in Infiniti’s new electrified era are not ready to be revealed, Krüger said.

Two years ago, the company was intensely questioned by some of its U.S. retailers about what was coming in the pipeline, he said. Dealers are predictably wishful about receiving new products. Infiniti’s U.S. sales through September were 105,249, down 7.4 percent.

One particular question on the dealers’ minds was whether there would be a halo car.

At the time, Krüger showed a small group of them the top-secret early sketches for what would become the Project Black S.

“And now here we are less than two years later with a running prototype,” Krüger said. “We went from sketch to a physical car in only 12 months.

“We’re committed to it,” Krüger said. “When I say we will do something, we’ll do it.

“Just let us test the car on the track first,” he said. “And let us have a little element of surprise.”

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