Infiniti concept EV breaks down on way to debut

Paul Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News
Infiniti QX Inspiration electric concept

Detroit — Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand hoped to debut its QX inspiration on Monday at the Detroit auto show, but it looked like it had a case of stage fright.

The news conference to announce its unveiling started, but a mechanical problem with the vehicle prevented company officials from rolling it out to be seen by the international media as planned for several hours.

Despite the glitch Monday, Nissan’s Infiniti brand has a history of rolling out some exotic concept cars. But it also has a record of transforming them into striking production vehicles like the current QX50 crossover. So, it would be foolish to dismiss the new QX Inspiration Concept as just another fantasy car.

The QX Concept is "the embodiment of our future," Infiniti Global President Christian Meunier said.

The Infiniti QX Inspiration concept broke down on the way to its Detroit auto show debut.

The new model has a crossover-like body and a fully electric drivetrain. That’s no surprise considering current market trends – and the fact that Infiniti officials have laid out plans to “electrify” virtually their entire lineup by 2021.

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“The Infiniti QX Inspiration marks the beginning of a new generation of Infiniti cars and establishes a direct blueprint for the brand’s first electric vehicle,” Meunier said.

It was just last year at the Detroit auto show, in fact, that Hiroto Saikawa, the CEO of parent Nissan Motor Co., laid out plans for a dramatic shift in strategy. Infiniti, he said, “will have a specific focus on electrification,” and will position itself as “the premier electrified brand” as part of a transition extending through 2022.

That doesn’t mean every vehicle will be a direct Tesla-fighter. Some will be plug-in hybrids, possibly pairing an electric motor with Infiniti’s breakthrough VC-T, or Variable-Compression Turbo, engine. It’s the world’s first to be able to constantly adjust its compression ratio to deliver the desired balance of performance, emissions and fuel economy. Others, however, will go all-electric.

Infiniti QX Inspiration electric concept

The QX Inspiration is an example of the latter. And, like Tesla’s Model 3 and the new Jaguar I-Pace, it mounts its battery pack and motors beneath the load floor, rather than in the traditional engine compartment. That skateboard-style design offers a number of advantages, among other things lowering the vehicle’s center of gravity to improve road dynamics.

"We think this is a unique opportunity to improve the ergonomics of our vehicle" by going electric," said Karim Habib, Infiniti's design director.

The other big plus: designers and engineers can repurpose space traditionally devoted to the engine compartment. That can translate into a full-size cabin for a vehicle with a compact footprint.

The Infiniti QX on the auto show floor after a a mechanical problem with the vehicle prevented company officials from rolling it out to be seen by the international media as planned.

“The decision to electrify the Infiniti range was an inflection point for our brand,” said Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president for global design for Nissan Motor Co. “We started to understand the potential of new architectures and technologies and how they could influence a change in how we design our cars.”

Infiniti isn’t offering much detail about the QX Inspiration’s electric drivetrain, though one might get a hint walking just a short distance over to the Nissan stand, where the parent marque is showing off a battery-electric show car of its own, the IMs. It features a 115 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, big enough to yield about 380 miles of range.

Lifting a page from the Tesla handbook, Infiniti is putting as much emphasis on performance as range, suggesting the QX Inspiration would be able to deliver plenty of “instantaneous” torque and “blistering off-the-line acceleration.” The Nissan IMs puts out a full 483 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. Electric motors make virtually 100 percent of peak torque the moment they start turning, which is why they can handily match the launch feel of a muscle car.

The Infiniti concept shifts away from the typical, long-nosed proportions of a luxury car, adopting a cab-forward design that is nonetheless as much a head-turner as last year’s Q Inspiration – only here adopting a more SUV-like stance.

The nose of the QX, with no need to flood air into the engine compartment, features a smooth surface where the grille would otherwise go. An illuminated Infiniti logo is framed by channels meant to carefully flow air over the vehicle to reduce wind drag. They’re framed by thin strips of headlights.

Inside, the QX Inspiration is designed to look more like a mobile lounge than a traditional luxury car. A widescreen monitor, flowing across the entire instrument panel, dominates the cabin. With no transmission tunnel, the cabin features a flat floor and the headliner adopts a louvered timber effect by using sugi, or Japanese redwood.

“New technology has given us the opportunity to evolve our design philosophy,” said Karim Habib, Infiniti’s chief designer. “QX Inspiration is the beginning of a new era for Infiniti, and an illustration of where we want to go with the brand.”

Those who have followed the brand since it made its original debut at the very first Detroit auto show 30 years ago are likely to know that there’s a very good chance that key design elements of the Infiniti QX Inspiration will be showing up on a production model over the next several years.