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Lexus vs Infiniti

lexus, Infiniti, brandThere was a time when the term ‘Japanese luxury car’ would have been classed as an oxymoron. No longer. In the last few years, Japanese carmakers Nissan (with its upmarket Infiniti brand) and Toyota (with Lexus), have been on a roll - particularly in the Middle East

According to Middle East Car magazine, luxury vehicles represent 8 percent of total car sales in the GCC, with UAE sales coming in at nearly three times that. No wonder then that the Gulf region plays such an important part in Lexus and Infiniti’s global expansion plans, more often than not getting the latest models prior to other major markets such as Europe. In fact, it’s in Kuwait that Infiniti opened its second showroom and service center worldwide, after South Korea.

“Infiniti [which began sales in the Middle East in early 2005] is the fastest growing luxury brand all over the Gulf and isn’t taking any backward steps,” thunders Middle East Car. For its part, Lexus posted an impressive 67 percent increase in sales in 2007, when it launched its LS 460 sedan, voted ‘World Car of the Year’. Moreover, Lexus forecasts another 40 percent surge in 2008.

The luxury market is doing well across the board - BMW posted record sales, up 14 per cent in 2007; Mercedes-Benz was up 16 per cent. The performance of the Japanese brands looks impressive, but the Germans have more product in the market, and fewer new segments to launch into.

Regal rides

After lagging a bit behind Lexus, Infiniti has upped the pace, expanding its range after the popular success of the sporty FX35 model and of its full-sized fully equipped QX56 SUV. The Nissan brand has brought out the heavy artillery with the G37 coupe, its Infiniti M and its EX35.

“Infiniti is on a roll these days, and the 2008 EX35 should do well to keep the company’s momentum. It’s a sleek design in keeping with Infiniti’s overall look, and in terms of sheer style, it trumps the more sedate lines seen on Acura and Lexus SUVs,” says website OpenAuto.com. What the brand likes to call a coupe-crossover, the EX35 features an around-view parking system, a four camera system simplifying parking in tight spots.

More importantly, since the arrival of Carlos Ghosn at the head of Nissan and Infiniti, the carmaker - once considered to be driver-centric, if a little dull - has been trying to pay more attention to design.

“Infiniti makes a more personal statement designed to attract buyers with a similar vision, buyers who thrive on experience, rather than status alone. There are two words at the core of Infiniti’s distinctive identity: graceful strength,” said corporate vice-president Gilles Normand.

Still, according to Noel Ebdon from Arabianbusiness.com, “If Infiniti is aiming directly down the throats of Lexus, then they will need to inject a bit more luxury into the mix [...] There’s nothing wrong with the interior, but its needs to be more special to really challenge its main rivals.”

Meanwhile sales of Lexus’s “definitive flagship SUV” LX570, launched last March by Al-Futtaim Motors (the exclusive distributor for Lexus in the UAE) are expected to increase by four times in 2008, with the brand claiming that “it had to be an SUV that would be superior to the competition on all key performance criteria, not just to the competitors’ current vehicles, but also to their future vehicles.”

Heavily based on the Toyota Land Cruiser, Lexus’ LX570 came up with details prone to seduce Arab users: a larger and wider exterior fitting, an advanced air-conditioning system with independent temperature controls for four zones and 28 air outlets, a multi-terrain ABS system. It also claims to be the first vehicle that can “see around the corners” because of its Wide-view Front and side video monitoring system.

“Even before its official launch, the customer demand for the LX 570 is so strong that we have an order bank equivalent to around 6 months worth of sales,” says Tony Barlow, senior general manager of sales and marketing at Al-Futtaim Motors.

Model v model

The Lexus LX570 may have everything to earn the hearts of potential buyers, but it also risks to empty their wallets: even if for Middle East Car, the LX570 “boasts phenomenal new features and a non-threatening price tag,” at around $90,000, the brand’s latest model is considered very pricey by the Drive Arabia website. Direct competitor Infiniti’s QX56 is priced at $62,000.

What do critics and buyers say?

For the Lexus Lx570, the overall consumer rating on Edmunds.com was quite high - 9.4. Anthony H feels “This car is incredibly quiet yet powerful. The fit and finish is unparallelled.”

But the company’s boast about its video monitoring system drew some flak. Rok_altima says “Infiniti already developed this technology with their all around view camera…Lexus is far from a “pioneer” in the luxury segment.”

On the Infiniti QX 56, the overall consumer rating was lower (at 7.9), and not without consumer advice. Larry Foles says “This car has a great drive, but rides rough, rattles and the wheels vibrate like crazy. The dealership says it was design so tight that you will feel more of the road. If the road is not a good road then you will feel it in the steering wheel. This car needs work.”

 
 

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