Infiniti M35 Hybrid Due at L.A. Show; Essence M Coupe A No-Show?

May 18, 2010
2011 Infiniti M37

2011 Infiniti M37

It's been promised for the near future, but now the Infiniti M35 Hybrid has a firm launch date for eager U.S. hybrid watchers--this November, at the 2010 Los Angeles auto show, to be precise.

Infiniti vice president Ben Poore confirmed the L.A. debut at this week's media drives of the new QX56 sport-utility vehicle in Louisville, Kentucky. The 2011 QX56 is one of four new models coming shortly to Nissan's luxury counterpart. It's entirely new for 2011: Nissan's moved the SUV from its former home in Mississippi to Japan, where it shares a plant and a platform with the world-market Nissan Patrol. But in terms of positioning and pricing, the QX56 isn't budging, Poore says. With sales rising in the current model's final year of production, Infiniti will keep appealing to family buyers looking for luxury and room--and looking for an Escalade alternative at a lower average price point.

Next up is the Infiniti M35 Hybrid. The luxury brand plans a debut at the 2010 Los Angeles auto show for the 2012 model, after it bowed to international audiences at the Geneva motor show earlier this year. When it goes on sale in the spring of 2011, the M35 Hybrid won't be a huge visual departure from the 2011 Infiniti M sedans--rated at the top of the mid-size luxury class by TheCarConnection. But the gas-electric version will blend a single electric motor, twin-clutch system with battery backup into the same body to make what Infiniti promises will be its cleanest, most economical vehicle ever.

The other two products in the pipeline haven't been confirmed, but Poore hints broadly that a pair of cars smaller than the current Infiniti G37 sedans are coming to the Infiniti display at this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August. And though German automakers like Mercedes and BMW have had less than stellar track records with hatchbacks, he suggests these smaller cars will be hatches--but perhaps with more sedan-like styling cues, like the crop of concepts that include vehicles like the upcoming Audi A7.

One is likely to be the Infiniti electric vehicle based on the Project Better Place electric vehicle, which also has been shown as the Renault Fluence. Another could be an Infiniti version of the new 2011 Nissan Leaf, which is open for orders and will see its first owners take possession of their gas-free cars late this year.

A more remote possibility is an Infiniti version of the next Mercedes-Benz B-Class. Renault-Nissan recently inked an agreement with Daimler AG to share powertrains and other technology in small cars, which will bring Infiniti a new range of four-cylinder engines in the near future. The partnership with the parent company of Mercedes-Benz eventually will grow beyond powertrains and will likely include some future joint product ventures. Poore sees Infiniti as a big beneficiary of the Daimler deal--with sales of about 80,000 vehicles a year in the U.S., his brand doesn't have the economy of scale today to add big branches to its family tree. The Daimler link, he says, could be the catalyst for even more additions to the Infiniti lineup.

What the two new cars probably won't be, are an Infiniti M Coupe and convertible. Reports from around the Web suggest such a car is in development, but Poore says he was "surprised" by the illustrations circulating the Internet. Without dismissing them entirely, he suggests the automaker might have more pressing priorities than to build a production version of the 2009 Essence concept coupe.

Update: We have more details on the pair of cars coming to the Pebble Beach Concours. One will be a mass-market vehicle, Poore says, while the other will have a coupelike roofline and will be aimed at performance buyers. Both vehicles are due for release by late fall, he indicates.

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