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With double-digit year-over-year sales growth this year, Infiniti is optimistic about its prospects going into 2018. Yet despite the fact that they’ve been selling cars in the United States for nearly three decades, the company has had some difficultly establishing its own unique brand identity, both within the industry and independent of parent company Nissan. 
It’s an issue that Randy Parker, Infiniti’s vice president of the Americas, says they’re looking to rectify with models like the 2019 QX50. The midsize crossover rides on an all-new platform and debuts technology that is not only a first for Infiniti, but for production vehicles as a whole. Autoweek sat down with Parker at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show to talk about the innovations that Infiniti is bringing to market with its new VC-Turbo engine, the company’s current and future model mix, and how Infiniti design will attempt to differentiate the brand going forward. 

Infiniti QX50 Front

The 2019 Infiniti QX50 will have a variable compression engine.

Autoweek: With the debut of the 2019 QX50, Infiniti introduced the VC-Turbo engine and its variable compression ratio technology, which we understand to be the technology’s first use in a mass-produced vehicle. Can you tell us a bit about how this design is unique within the industry and why Infiniti chose this approach to increasing efficiency?

RP: Sure — it’s a really cool design and one that we’re obviously proud of. What’s really interesting about the VC-Turbo engine is that it behaves like a diesel engine without the emissions. It’s really two engines in one — the fact that it can seamlessly transition from a high-performance engine to a fuel-efficient engine is a new standard in the industry, and it means that we don’t really need to have a hybrid setup in this space to achieve the level of efficiency that we wanted.  

Autoweek: Do you foresee this technology being applied to upcoming engines for other Infiniti models down the road? Also, you mentioned that because of the VC-Turbo’s variable compression ratio capability, a hybrid setup was not necessary to reach the efficiency goals set for the QX50. But could that technology be applied to a hybrid powertrain setup if there was a potential need in a different vehicle?

RP: From my vantage point, both are scenarios I’d love to see take place. For now we want people to come out and experience the new engine and this technology, and we’ll see where it takes us. But I would certainly like to see this technology expand into other areas of the business. 

QX50 VC-Turbo

The Infiniti VC-Turbo engine can adjust its compression ratio while running to promote either fuel economy or performance as conditions require.

Autoweek: Can you tell us a bit about Infiniti’s current model mix, and how it will evolve over the next few years?

RP: When you look around what we call our “showroom” (at the Los Angeles Auto Show), you’ll notice that we decided not to put any passenger cars on display during the press event. We did that purposely because here in the United States, the market has shifted from passenger cars to crossovers and SUVs, and we wanted to make sure that it’s clearly articulated that if you’re in the market for a crossover or SUV, Infiniti has the right vehicle with the right technology to fit your needs, right here and now. And obviously that all starts with our latest showpiece, the all-new QX50. 

Autoweek: Infiniti often gets characterized as “Nissan’s luxury brand” rather than its own unique entity. Going forward, is there a strategy to better differentiate Infiniti from its parent company?

RP: To be quite honest, I think we already have our own unique identity. Leveraging the power of Nissan, and all of what I could call the “back office functions,” is certainly something I want to continue to advocate. Nissan is obviously a very technologically advanced company and performance-driven, so being able to take the best of Nissan and bring a premium element to those developments is something I see nothing wrong with. 
At the same time, we will keep the brands separated. But where we can leverage platforms, chassis and other technology, and put that type of thing into the premium space, that’s what we aim to do at Infiniti. A good example of that would be the QX60. It’s built in our Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, which is where Nissan also builds the Pathfinder, and consumers really don’t know that those two vehicles come from the same platform. But it is a good example of how we’re able to utilize the best of what Nissan has to offer –- we can come in, bend the sheetmetal and deliver a premium automobile. 

Variable compression engine are coming to an Infiniti near you

Autoweek: To that end, it’s interesting to see new technology like the VC-Turbo engine debuting first in an Infiniti vehicle rather than with a Nissan product. Do you foresee that happening with increasing frequency in the future?

RP: For selfish reasons, of course I’d love to see that — I always want to go first. But we have to remember that at the end of the day, it’s Nissan that pays the bills — without Nissan, there is no Infiniti. So with that in mind, our ability to leverage the best of what Nissan has to offer is perfectly fine with me. 

By Bradley Iger