Infiniti CEO Peyman Kargar knows his way around the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. Since starting at Renault in 1996, he's worked his way up and around both the French carmaker and its dominant Japanese partner, taking responsibility for both myriad regions of the world — Africa, the Middle East, India — and many pieces of the companies, including quality, after-sales engineering and marketing.
On June 1 of last year, however, he climbed into the big chair at Infiniti. He took over command of the 31-year-old luxury brand during a time of both global and automotive upheaval, with the COVID-19 pandemic shifting paradigms up and down society and the seeming inevitability of electric mobility over internal combustion.
While the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance is one of the biggest producers of electric cars on Earth, in the short term, Infiniti's plans are tied to gas-powered crossovers; the QX55 that launched early this year brings a more design-forward entry to the company's compact crossover line, while later on in 2021, a new QX60 will attempt to make a splash in the midsize luxury SUV arena.
While we weren't able to sit down with Kargar directly, on account of the fact that he's based in Japan and we're located in New York City (plus, you know, that whole coronavirus thing), we were able to correspond with him electronically and ask him a few questions about the future of the luxury brand. Here's what he had to say.
Gear Patrol: You've been CEO for almost a year now. How has the company culture changed since you started there?
Peyman Kargar: I've tried to institute a more common-sense approach to the business. I encourage our team to prioritize a healthier balance of performance metrics, to ensure we are a sustainable luxury brand for decades to come. I also am a big believer in promoting open debate and discussion among my leaders, and listening more to the market, since they really have the consumer's pulse.
Does Infiniti plan to follow some of its competitors further into the off-road and overlanding spaces?
Our flagship QX80 has always been off-road-capable, and we will continue to nurture that capability in our flagship SUV. But we won’t be moving the whole lineup in that direction.
Many luxury brands are making big inroads into the electric vehicle market. You, however, have said you plans to roll out both a regular EV and ones using Nissan's e-Power hybrid powertrain (which uses a gas-powered engine as an electric generator). Are you still sticking with your plan to push into electrification using e-Power, rather than go to full-blown EVs anytime soon?
Infiniti was founded on the principles of being human, daring and forward. The human, customer-centric side of our brand intends to listen to our customers and provide them choices regarding powertrains. In the future, Infiniti will offer a variety of powertrain options, from the traditional internal-combustion engines to our performance version of e-Power to full EVs. Our markets vary widely from the U.S. to Russia, to China and the Middle East. We believe choice for customers will be the key for our lineup going forward.
Does Infiniti plan to push further upmarket in the near future?
Yes. We are dedicated to matching luxury consumers' needs, many of whom have moved upmarket and expect an authentic and unique experience from luxury brands. You will see that the upcoming lineup from Infiniti, which will blend beautiful Japanese craftsmanship, seamlessly integrated technology, and confident performance for our customers.
Turning to current models for a second. Infiniti helped pioneer the trendy "crossover coupe" segment with the FX models almost two decades ago; now you've come back to it with the QX55. How did the FX influence the new QX55?
In many ways, the FX really embodies what we stand for as a brand. It was daring and innovative and pioneered an entirely new automotive genre. Our design team looked to the iconic FX for inspiration in returning to the crossover coupe category with the QX55. The QX55’s silhouette, the dynamic arch treatment for the greenhouse, and the overarching bold design are all a nod to the FX and designed to capture the hearts of buyers looking for an expressive vehicle that stands out from the crowd.
But the QX55 simply doesn’t repeat the FX formula; it pushes the category forward. It offers a beautiful balance of style and substance, with rear seat and cargo space that I am sure will surprise many, and it is equipped with a suite of advanced technology and connectivity to meet the needs of today’s premium segment customers.
Infiniti, and Nissan, have announced plans to begin the more widespread use of a nine-speed automatic transmission.Why isn't the new nine-speed automatic available in the QX55? Will the new gearbox eventually replace the CVT through the lineup?
The QX55 is built alongside the QX50 and although it features a unique design to appeal to a very different buyer, it does share a selection of components, including the rigid platform and powertrain. Engineering a unique engine or transmission combination was not an option at launch. That said, our talented engineering and development teams in Japan and across North America have been working for some time to ensure the QX55 delivers an engaging drive to match its head-turning looks.
Our innovative VC-Turbo engine is paired to a transmission that has been improved to ensure it delivers greater response, especially when paired to the standard all-wheel drive and 20-inch wheels. Whether you might see certain engines or transmissions used in the future, I can’t go into that today.
How did the new QX60 change in response to customer input? What did they like (and dislike) about the old version, and how did you go about addressing that?
Our current QX60 is a cornerstone model for the brand, and we’ve sold more than 400,000 units globally. Buyers appreciate the dedicated three-row packaging, the powerful V-6 engine, and the interior versatility. We’ll carry these strengths into the all-new 2022 model while adding a more confident and engaging drive, more technology, and an interior designed to spoil both the driver and the passengers.
We’ve given you a good indication of the powerful yet sleek design direction we will take the exterior with the QX60 Monograph late last year. I can also confirm that overall, you’re going to see a decidedly more premium offering from Infiniti when we reveal the next-generation vehicle in just a few months.
What's the most rewarding part about working for Infiniti? The most challenging part?
The brand values of Infiniti really speak to who I am as a person. I love the brand philosophy of never giving up, daring to challenge conventions, and being your own person. That brand ethos, and the wonderfully international team we have put together here in Yokohama, are my favorite parts of the job.
The most challenging part is trying to predict the future of the luxury market. We are in such a dramatic time of change for the world, and it’s not always easy to look in your crystal ball and predict what will happen next. The luxury market and the needs of luxury customers are continually changing. The good news? When you stick to the DNA and your brand's values, you will never disappoint your customers. And when you deploy all your passion and energies to be a brand that makes a deep emotional connection to your targeted customers, you will have a good chance to avoid failure. We are reconnecting with our roots and ensuring that we can connect with our customers in the future.