Infiniti, the smallest mainstream luxury car brand in the U.S., is making a play to snag customers from the likes of BMW and Lexus with a renewed focus on its longtime bestseller, the Q50 compact sedan.
Tweaks to the 2018 Infiniti Q50, whose mid-cycle facelift is expected at dealerships by the end of the month, will be minor, but its marketing will emphasize the sedan’s two advantages over rivals such as the Lexus IS and BMW 3-Series: horsepower and price. The Q50’s starting price – $34,200 – clocks in well below the German and Japanese models it hopes to challenge.
Infiniti is also cutting the price of the Q50’s most popular trim, called Luxe, from $40,650 to $38,950. Its high-performance, 400-horsepower Red Sport badge starts at $51,000, significantly below competing models with similar horsepower.
“The pricing is a compelling part of the Q50 story,” said Keith St. Clair, director of product planning at Infiniti Americas. But even as the Q50 undercuts competitors on price while offering comparable performance and amenities, the brand continues to struggle to define itself in a crowded market.
“Every sedan faces a common challenge – the SUV,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “There’s still demand for four-door cars, but growing volume, or even maintaining it, is difficult. Add in the reduced name recognition Infiniti’s Q50 faces compared to a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and it’s a tough time to be a new or updated luxury sedan.”
But powertrains and competitive pricing aren’t the only sales tactics in Infiniti’s arsenal. It’s enlisting Steph Curry, a two-time winner of the NBA Most Valuable Player award with the Golden State Warriors, as brand ambassador to help assert its identity and embody its new tagline: “empower the drive.”
Curry “didn’t go to Duke,” said Phil O’Connor, Infiniti’s director of marketing, referring to the perennial college basketball powerhouse. “He didn’t go to Kentucky. He went to Davidson. He’s a challenger brand in and of himself. We think he aligns with what we’re trying to do. We’re clearly a challenger brand.”
The basketball star is a wise choice for the brand, according to Robin Hardin, a professor of sport management at the University of Tennessee, near Infiniti’s Franklin, Tenn. headquarters. Curry “seems like a wholesome, all-American guy” who also has mass appeal in China, where Infiniti hopes to expand. “When he started, he wasn’t this great big name, and now he’s one of the best.”