Changing Car Names: Smudging The Past, Blurring The Future? Page 3

August 12, 2013
Ben Poore, Infiniti, 2013 Detroit Auto Show

Ben Poore, Infiniti, 2013 Detroit Auto Show

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Infiniti changes names

The latest example of changing car names is Infiniti, which is hoping to reignite interest in its vehicles while it solves some longstanding issues with naming.

With the 2014 model year, nearly every Infiniti will receive a new alphanumeric badge beginning with either Q for sedans and coupes, or QX for crossovers and SUVS. There will be no more JX35, even though it was new for 2013; it's now on sale as the 2014 Infiniti QX60.

"We just couldn't continue on with our nomenclature," Infiniti vice president Ben Poore told The Car Connection earlier this year at the Detroit auto show.

Poore said the decision to change names was made before Johan de Nysschen became president of Infiniti in 2012. De Nysschen had been the head of Audi, where he had overseen the introduction of that company's Q-badged crossovers.

In the past, the naming system had used engine displacement as a suffix to model letters. The Infiniti G35 became the G37 over time, for example. Under the new system, the alphanumeric name will remain the same, though other badging will indicate powertrain, giving Infiniti shoppers a clear idea of how vehicles relate to each other within the brand, Poore explained.

It also leaves more room for logical expansion.

"We did it because we're going to expand the lineup, it's just that simple," he explained. But, Poore also suggested, it's a way to mask the downsizing of engine displacement coming in future cars, without implying any loss of performance.

"The key for me is, we have Infiniti first...we really want it to be clean," he explained, but added that individual models may have other designators such as "S" for sport models or "e" for efficient models, even electric cars.

The new names establish a hierarchy that had been missing from the Infiniti lineup, he continued. At the same time, it strips Infiniti of its best-selling nameplate, one that arguably has kept the division relevant as a resurgent Cadillac and resilient brands like Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi have continued to dominate U.S. luxury-car sales.

"It was a tough decision, particularly on G," Poore said, "but there is strong heritage with Q as well."

That's a point with which Lexicon's Placek readily agrees. Lexicon worked with Hill Holiday Advertising in the late 1980s to help pick the letter Q for the new brand's flagship sedan--and that sedan still resonates with car enthusiasts, nearly 25 years after its debut.

"Q was the right choice then and now," Placek says. "I think this will bring order to a chaotic system and bring a new level of sophistication to the line."

A hiccup or two

Renaming is fraught with millions of small tasks and sometimes it creates major problems of its own. It's a point both Poore and Placek readily admit. Finding a new name is difficult enough, according to Poore.

"There's almost nothing left in automotive," he said.

Once the new name is taken, everything from business cards to entire Web sites must be redeployed for the seemingly minor change. New catalogues are printed. New PowerPoints are drafted. For the single task of making sure car shoppers follow Infiniti from the G37 to the Q50, its agencies have embarked on a multi-year project to solve potential web-search problems that may never have been experienced by a car company on this scale. Simply put, when buyers search for the 2014 Infiniti JX35, there isn't one--and Infiniti's web sites must send those shoppers correctly to the new Infiniti QX60.

No matter how well-prepared it may have been, Infiniti's timing has not been perfect. The 2014 Infiniti Q50 is now on sale, but the G37 sedan still sells well--and it's still without the compact-car rival to the likes of the Mercedes CLA and upcoming Audi A3 sedan that it will need to compete.

As a result, Infiniti has retrenched on its massive renaming plan slightly. All its products have been renamed--but Infiniti will now continue production of the G37 sedan through the 2013-2015 model years. The G37 will be repackaged and repriced, and will remain in the lineup through the 2015 model year until Infiniti's new Q30 compact makes its debut--first as a compact concept car at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show, likely as a 2016 model in showrooms.

The last-minute hedge has created the unique situation of a brand almost--but not completely--converted over to new names. Infiniti will be selling competing cars alongside each other as awareness ramps up for the new Q50, though there will be a substantial difference in the sticker price.

Ultimately, it's the product, and not the names, that must win over new customers, Poore and Placek agree. Infiniti hopes its new Q50's exotic styling cues and steer-by-wire system will give its whole renaming strategy a very visible boost. It's a once in a generation chance to start the branding process all over again, more or less, for better or worse.

According to Poore, it was the only chance.

"If we didn't do it now, it was, forever hold our peace."


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