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Nissan's luxury division arrived in the U.S. market for 1990, four years after Acura and around the same time as Lexus. Like Lexus, Infiniti started off with a pair of models.
In 1985, Nissan formed a top-secret "Horizon Task Force." Its mission? To create a new performance-luxury brand, a significant step up from Nissan models, and not merely a re-badging of a current or upcoming vehicle. At the time, Honda was about to launch its Acura division, but no other Japanese-brand manufacturers were close to moving upscale in that way.
New luxury-focused products were only part of the story. Nissan wanted its new brand to offer a customer experience that was also a step up. With that in mind, the Task Force studied such "customer-centric" companies as Federal Express and Nordstrom, before developing a new purchasing and service experience. Showrooms, they decided, should have the "look and feel of luxury hotels," according to Nissan. What became the Total Ownership Experience even included free loaner cars when servicing was needed-an amenity not seen elsewhere in the luxury market at that time.
In 1987, they came up with the Infiniti name: a familiar noun, but spelled with a final "i" rather than a "y." Nissan notes that both the name and the Infiniti badge were meant to suggest "always looking forward-to new horizons, to infinity."
Sales began in November 1989 with two U.S. models: a full-size Q45 performance-luxury sedan, and a driver-oriented M30 performance luxury coupe. Both were officially 1990 models. The flagship Q45 went through two additional generations, remaining in the lineup through 2006.
Production of the M30 coupe and convertible lasted only three seasons, likely due in part to the soft-top's rather creaky nature. Fourteen years later, in 2006, a new M series debuted.
Infiniti added a compact G20 sports sedan for 1991. Though the original G20 disappeared in 1996, a successor of the same name emerged for 1999-2002. Meanwhile, a stylish J30 luxury sedan debuted for 1993. Following in 1996 was Infiniti's I30 sedan, transformed to the I35 in 2000.
First of the Infiniti luxury sport-utility vehicles, the QX4, was launched as a 2001 model. By then, Infiniti was selling about 75,000 vehicles each year in the U.S. Under new corporate chief Carlos Ghosn, the company "concentrated on reinvigorating the brand," according to Nissan, "with an altogether new breed of vehicles, featuring rear-drive or all-wheel drive."
First up was the G35 sport sedan, launched in March 2002 as a 2003 model and soon followed by a G35 coupe. Both evolved into the G37 four years later. Early in 2004 came the FX crossover SUV, with a choice of V-6 or V-8 power. For the first time, in 2003, U.S. sales topped 100,000, making Infiniti the fastest-growing luxury brand.
In mid-decade, the I35, QX4 and Q45 were phased out, but two new models arrived: the full-size QX56 luxury SUV for 2004, and the M performance luxury sedan a year later. For 2008, Infiniti had something different in mind: an EX35 premium compact SUV, loaded with available technical features including an Around View Monitor, Lane Departure Prevention, and Scratch Shield "self-healing" clearcoat body paint.
When the second-generation FX debuted at the Geneva (Switzerland) Motor Show in 2008, its new V-8 generated 390 horsepower-the most powerful Infiniti to date. During 2009, a G37 convertible with a retractable roof joined the coupe and sedan.
Infiniti wishes to issue "vehicles with character," says Carlos Ghosn. Latest member of the Infiniti family is the JX crossover SUV, which goes on sale during 2012 as a 2013 model.