2019 Infiniti QX50 (left) and 2018 Infiniti QX80
Nobody asked me, but . . .
Infiniti’s marketing slogan is: Infiniti. Accelerating the Future. It might not have meant much in 2001 when it was first introduced by Chiat/Day, but with the accelerating change of everything these days, I’d have to say that someone within the Infiniti organization had extraordinary prescience.
But after spending time with Infiniti for the launch of two of their new crossovers/SUVs, the full-size QX80 and the compact QX50, I’d like to suggest two additional words that I think define Nissan’s luxury division: Intelligent Design. Yes, Intelligent Design.
And how do I define Intelligent Design? I believe it’s a deep understanding of your customer, and offering him and her not just the current technology buzzwords, but only those features that make the ownership experience more pleasurable, more convenient, less complicated and safer.
It seems to me that many of today’s auto journalists have narrowly focused only one target in the crosshairs of their smart phones: Infotainment and, more specifically, “where the hell is the Apple CarPlay and the Android Auto technology.”
I have to admit; I’ve been a lover of all things Apple since the mid 1980s when I purchased my first Mac II along with a laser writer printer. That’s longer than a lot of the current crop of auto journos have inhabited this planet. So I’ve seen a thing or two and driven a thing or two that perhaps provides me with a perspective on our auto biz different than most. Call it wisdom . . . or wisdumb. Your choice. But when I hear someone in the media say, “I won’t test drive a vehicle that doesn’t have a backup camera” or complain that a company is a “tech Luddite” because it doesn’t offer the latest Apple or Android tech, I have to pause and ask, “Which end of the binoculars are you looking through?”
Infiniti doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto in either the refreshed QX80 or the all-new QX50. But somehow, I don’t believe all the media tech angst surrounding this oversight is causing Infiniti design, engineering, sales and marketing folks sleepless nights. And just to pour some 10W-30 on the troubled waters, both Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are part of Infiniti’s future product plans.
In an attempt to bring clarity to the subject, I spent time with George Peterson, owner of the highly respected research firm, AutoPacific and with Bob Welby, Infiniti’s Director of Marketing, Pricing & Strategy (aka Chief Marketing Manager) to gain further insight.
AutoPacific data clearly shows that more than 70% of people interested in purchasing a QX50 or QX80 would like smartphone integration of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto in their vehicles. An even higher 86% and 88%, respectively, of potential ’50 and ’80 buyers want smart phone app access to navigation. A curfew alert app? Not so much: less than 7%.
When asked: What vehicle features would you like to be able to active via a smart phone, respondents voted 80-94% for remote lock/unlock and remote engine start. But only 43-54% wanted to be able to preheat/cool the interior temperature. I find that slightly surprising. Having lived in areas with cold winters and hot, humid summers, being able to remotely heat or cool my car via my smart phone would be number one on my list.
When queried about which options they would be willing to pay for, 95% of QX50 and 98% of QX80 buyers say they would spend $300 for a power driver’s seat. Nothing surprising about that, especially for a luxury brand such as Infiniti. Paying an extra $300 for power sunshades for rear seat passengers scored only 7% and 16%, respectively, for QX50 and QX80 shoppers while factory-installed, on-board navigation for $500 was a winner for 78% and 84% of these customers.
I’m not sure what to think about the 1.02% of QX50 shoppers who would pay an extra $500 for a power, fully adjustable 3rd row seat, other than to point them in the direction of the QX80 which does offer three rows of seating.
Armed with this AutoPacific data as background information I got onto a call with Infiniti’s Bob Welby who focuses on marketing, pricing and incentives. We started by having Bob define the typical QX80 and QX50 buyer.
Median age: lower, mid 40s, which is lower than the segment average. Male/female: strongly female in the high 50s%; higher than the primary competition. Married with children: more than 60%; again higher than the primary competition, which includes Land Rover, Lincoln Navigator and Mercedes-Benz.
Median age: low 40s, 25-54; younger buyers than the QX80. This crossover segment attracts younger buyers to the luxury space who are stepping up from the mass market or from luxury sedans. That is where Infiniti sees a lot of activity in this compact SUV segment.
JD I found the pricing of the QX50 somewhat surprising because it starts around $36,000 and ranges up to about $58,000. That seems like a German approach to pricing a vehicle.
BW We actually have a very different strategy than the Germans. That wide German price range typically includes different body styles and powertrains. That’s not the case with Infiniti. But the QX50 segment is the largest of the segments in the premium space. It’s also one of the fastest growing: Luxury compact utilities. There’s also a lot of growth in a similar segment on the mass-market side. Consumers are attracted to vehicles that give them all the utility they want, but also the fuel efficiency and driving dynamics that they want out of a sedan.
When you have a segment like this, you have a lot of different sub-segments . . . different pockets of consumers and different pockets of needs. That gets into what we offer as a base entry price point to make sure we are competitive there. But on the upper trim levels we are really offering all the top-end luxury amenities . . . all the bells and whistles from a technical and safety perspective, across the lineup. We really have a broad strategy. We call it The Segment but in reality we have to recognize and respond to the many different customer types and needs inside that segment.
We expect the median price for the QX50 to be sub $50K. The most popular model sold will be in the mid to upper $40s. We call that our Essential Trim [$43,350 FWD; $45,150 AWD; standard features include leather, navigation, around-view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, remote engine start, heated outside mirror, rain-sensing wipers and tri-zone temp control-Ed.]
JD Now I want to ask you about your Ouch Point.
BW . . . (silence) I love it. Ok, you’ve intrigued me. Tell me about your Ouch Point.
JD Here’s how I define the Ouch Point. I’m staring at a page of data that was given to me by a research organization. These are just numbers and I’m not sure they reflect reality. Here’s what I mean. These days there seems to be an over emphasis by the media on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you don’t offer that technology you are 20 years in the past and nobody is going to buy your car. So an Ouch Point occurs when a customer refuses to purchase your car because he believes it is lacking one or more fundamental features. For example, if you offered a QX50 with only a manual transmission, you would lose a lot of buyers. That’s an Ouch Point.
As I look down the list of equipment you offer on the QX50 and QX80 models, a built-in navigation system is available on both. And if you ask your buyers if they want that technology, they will say yes at a very high level. And they also say they want Apple CarPlay/Android Auto at very high levels.
Do you think that lack of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is an Ouch Point for Infiniti?
BW No, I don’t. I would agree that there is always somebody who would consider not having that tech a deal breaker, but when you engage a customer at retail, I think you have to ask: “What is the real need for a customer?” I believe it’s about convenience and integration into his or her life. How is that car going to be an extension of the owner? Whether it’s being able to do hands-free texting or navigating to where the owner wants to go.
Or another key area, which we really haven’t talked about much, is safety tech. The different types of safety tech the customers have. I wouldn’t say that either of those areas is an Ouch Point for us. Really, it’s for us to continually watch the market and to adapt to make sure that where we have those features in our lineup are at places where consumers want them.
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto will be in our future. We will develop it as an offering for customers who really want that as well. And as we continue to evolve our IT systems. But our IT systems have specifically gotten some significant awards from consumers for user friendliness and adaptability, and I don’t see that as an Ouch Point or a liability for us.
We have lots of research on our cars. But you have to push beyond the numbers. Especially in a segment like the one in which the QX50 competes. It’s so large that you just can’t speak about a number. The story is so much deeper than that.
We have to ask ourselves: “What are we doing with those cars and those features that make sense for our users?” Because we sell to such a wide range of customers, we have to be adaptable as to how we use tech.
We have to make sure that our tech serves the customer who is very tech savvy along with those who aren’t but who still want a user-friendly interface.
And that pushes beyond to our tech story regarding safety features. Because when we go beyond the connectivity piece, I think there’s a real story around the different safety technologies showing up in cars and how they assist the driver in the experience rather than taking over driving for them.
I think we have a real strong offering in both those cars.
So . . . what say you? Is Apple CarPlay/Android Auto so compelling it would be a deal breaker for you? Or is it simply a nice to have feature among several others and not having it wouldn’t stop you from purchasing a vehicle you otherwise wanted?
Inquiring minds would like to know.