FRANKLIN, TN - "Since its inception, Infiniti's goal has been to establish a new concept of automotive luxury, where a personal and rewarding driving experience is more important than the car alone."
These words, which encapsulate the vision behind Infiniti's Inspired Performance, could have been written last year, last month, or even today. Yet their origin is nearly 20 years ago, penned in reference to the new luxury performance brand that had first opened for business on November 8, 1989 with just 51 retailers and two models sharing the decidedly different looking showrooms.
Those dealerships had a true luxury feel - now common in auto retailing - with a reception desk, open offices and an equal emphasis on sales and customer service. The vehicles themselves were also unique, with their focus on Japanese craftsmanship, quiet luxury and an unmatched driving performance.
Much has changed in the two intervening decades. Showrooms have expanded to make room for full range of luxury performance vehicles, including a coupe, convertible, sedans and SUVs. Yet the original inspiration remains - of a Total Ownership Experience, of Inspired Performance - even as that handful of original dealers in the United States has expanded to include state-of-the-art Infiniti retailers in 35 countries around the globe.
"A dream that started 20 years ago in the United States is now the blueprint for a global luxury automotive brand," said Toru Saito, Corporate Vice President in charge of Global Infiniti Business Unit. "In the beginning, Infiniti was an innovator in design, performance, technology and in taking care of our customers throughout the entire ownership experience - just as it is today."
Looking ahead, the ever-expanding product line will be joined by a third-generation Infiniti M sedan in spring 2010, followed by an all-new Infiniti QX SUV in summer 2010. Farther out, Infiniti recently announced its first-ever hybrid - the 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid and a future Infiniti EV.
Infiniti - A Brief History
While Infiniti sales officially started on November 8, 1989 in the U.S., plans for Infiniti took root in 1985 with the creation of a top secret "Horizon Task Force" - a group formed within Nissan with a view toward creating a new performance luxury brand.
With existing U.S. and European luxury brands already well entrenched in the American marketplace at the time, investment costs would be high, along with the risk. Given the opportunity to start with a "blank sheet of paper," the Horizon Task Force took an expansive view. They looked at luxury vehicles both from a product perspective and the entire purchase and ownership process.
The Horizon Task Force singled out for closer study a handful of leading service companies outside of the automotive field, including Federal Express, Four Seasons Hotels and Nordstrom department stores. Ultimately, the Task Force's findings had a direct influence on everything from the design of the first Infiniti showrooms, which had the look and feel closer to a luxury hotel than a car dealership, to the brand identity process all the way down to details such as the design of business cards and parts and accessories packaging.
This new customer-centric philosophy - later named the "Infiniti Total Ownership Experience" - would be applied to service policies as well, and included the then-unheard of amenity of offering free service loan cars.
The name chosen in July 1987 for the new performance luxury brand symbolized the desire to be always looking forward - to new horizons. With a fresh spelling and a badge with its two central lines leading off into an infinite point on the horizon, Infiniti - with four "i"s - was born.
From a product perspective, Infiniti launched in the U.S. with two models: the breakthrough Infiniti Q45 performance luxury sedan and the driver-oriented M30 performance luxury coupe.
With those two models, Infiniti gave the automotive world notice that its product philosophy was based on originality, performance, quality and an enthusiasm for driving.
Where Infiniti was most influential in the early years was in the implementation of Total Ownership Experience. In its first decade of operation, Infiniti was an industry leader in customer satisfaction, winning numerous awards, including the highest rank in J.D. Power and Associates' Customer Service Index (CSI) study three times and consistent top three finishes in the major independent sales and service studies.
Throughout those early years of Infiniti in the U.S. and Canada, the model lineup and dealer body continued to grow at a steady, prescribed pace. The Q45 was joined over the next few years by the Infiniti G20 compact sports sedan, the dramatically styled J30 luxury sedan, the I30 performance sedan and the QX4 luxury SUV. By the end of its first decade, Infiniti was consistently selling around 75,000 units a year.
In March 2002, the dramatic award-winning Infiniti G Sedan appeared, followed by the G Coupe in November 2002 and the iconic Infiniti FX crossover SUV in January 2003. Each received exceptional media reviews, with Infiniti being consistently compared to the leading European nameplates for design and performance leadership.
As the decade rolled on, two additional models were added in North America - the full-size, North America-built Infiniti QX luxury SUV in January 2004 and the Infiniti M performance luxury sedan in May 2005. In late 2007, the Infiniti EX joined the lineup, followed by second-generation versions of the G and FX. The dramatic G Convertible debuted in summer 2009. A second-generation Infiniti M has been announced for spring 2010, with Infiniti's first hybrid, the 2011 Infiniti M Hybrid, set to follow about a year later.
While the early Infiniti years were concentrated on North American activities, Infiniti began a period of global expansion in 1996 with sales starting in the Middle East, followed by entry into Taiwan in 1997, South Korea in 2005, Russia in 2006 and Ukraine and China in 2007. Infiniti expanded into Western Europe beginning in late 2008. Today, Infiniti vehicles are sold in 35 countries, extending to 93 percent of global luxury markets.
The original Infiniti vision of always looking ahead to the next horizon - symbolized by the Infiniti name and badge - continues to shape the brand today.
"While the automotive landscape has changed over the years, our tradition of offering the highest levels of performance, luxury and customer care has remained constant," said Ben Poore, vice president, Infiniti Business Unit. "With a slate of innovative new products ahead and a renewed commitment to customer service, we're looking forward to the next 20 years."
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet