2011 Infiniti Etherea ConceptEnlarge Photo
The relationship between automakers Renault-Nissan and Mercedes-Benz has transitioned from “we’re just friends” to “we’re involved,” following the announcement that Infiniti will build an upcoming luxury compact on a platform supplied by Mercedes Benz. The compact crossover will be based on the Infiniti Etherea concept, and will use Mercedes’ modular front architecture (MFA) platform, which underpins the new Mercedes B-Class.
Per Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, the announcement marks an “expansion of cooperation” between the automakers, who had previously agreed to cooperate on electric versions of the future Smart Fortwo and Renault Twingo, and on a compact van using a Renault platform. All joint efforts are based on “practical projects,” which makes the friends-with-benefits relationship between Mercedes-Benz and Renault much less restrictive (and more likely to succeed).
Infiniti needs a compact offering to challenge the market dominance of the BMW 1-Series and the Audi A3 in Europe. The new Infiniti model will launch in 2014, with both gas and diesel engine offerings (at least in Europe). It will draw heavily from the Etherea concept, and Infiniti believes the car could someday account for as much as 40 percent of Infiniti’s sales in the European market.
A strong Japanese Yen has cut into Infiniti's profits in Europe and America, so it's likely the new model will be built in Europe to reduce production and distribution costs. If that happens, the crossover would become the first Japanese luxury brand model to be built outside of Japan.