Home Nissan & Infiniti Infiniti to move production out of Japan… but what of the Z and Skyline GT370?

Infiniti to move production out of Japan… but what of the Z and Skyline GT370?

2012-04-08

According to an article in Automotive News last week, Infiniti is preparing to move all current production out of Japan. This raises several questions for driving enthusiasts. First, read the original article here:
http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120405/OEM01/120409911/1131/nissan-to-pull-infiniti-production-out-of-japan-to-counter-strong-yen

“You won’t have to wait a long time before we make a decision about the new base for sourcing of Infiniti,” Ghosn told a group of reporters Wednesday during the New York auto show. “If you follow our logic, we should make the cars where we sell them.”

A move to North America would result in lower prices in this market, as well as a more highly profitable stream of exports to other markets including Europe and likely China.

However, big questions arise. First, what about the 370Z (branded as Fairlady Z in Japan)? It’s built on the same “FM” platform as several Infiniti models (G, M, FX). Does this mean that it will also be assembled in North America, or will it move to a different platform entirely when it’s replacement cycle comes up in another 2-3 years? How does this fit in with recent discussion of a “BRZ-type” replacement for the Silvia (240SX)? And where would the chassis for that product come from, and might it be shared with a new Z on an all-new non-FM platform? Where  then would that be built? Would the it compete with the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86, and another version of it with a 6 cylinder engine be sold as a “Z”?

The article also has a slightly inaccurate quote from Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. He is quoted in the article that “Infiniti is not sold in Japan”. This is not exactly true: the Infiniti G35/25 is very simply a rebadged Nissan Skyline GT370/GT250 in Japan. Same exact car, different badge in the same grill and different labeling. Built in left-and right-hand drive configurations for different world markets. Same difference for the Infiniti M series – it’s actually a Nissan Fuga. And the EX, as well as the FX. Even the mighty GT-R is itself derived from the FM platform and before the current iteration used to share the Skyline name. So the future of all of these products are part of this question. And all are coming up for a redesign in the next 2-3 years, so the time is right to start asking.

So if the FM platform is leaving Japan, where does that leave our favorite products for North America, and where does it leave the Japanese home market?

Furthermore, if these products were to be built solely in China, would the North American market accept that? In our opinion, a strong and absolute “NO“! However, given fluctuating currency and the distances involved, multiple production sites would seem likely and Ghosn seemed to confirm that with this quote: “We’re seeing what the Germans are doing,” he said. “The Germans are  diversifying their base and they are producing practically everywhere”.

In closely related news, Carscoop has some spy pictures of an Infiniti mule for the next generation G. While they didn’t venture to say what changes they felt the mule represents, we’ll say it. It’s a G with the current bodyshell, but that has been updated to an M underneath. Note the wider track and M shifter and tacked-on instrument cluster. Running M electronics would require an M instrument cluster. Since the current M is a “version 1.1” of the current G platform with a wider track and very slightly updated rear suspension (close enough that the M37H hybrid drivetrain was originally previewed to the press in a V36 G35 body), it would make sense to start with an M. But for testing purposes. Looking closely, we can see things like the front brakes in the same exact position as the current G/M, so that might suggest the platform is the same or just a “.1” release. In the rear,  however, there is a transverse muffler instead of the 2 stock mufflers. This would be a change… and architecturally would bring the sedan into the same architecture as the current G37 coupe and the Z.

And as our readers are also likely aware, there is a degree of cooperation taking place with new partner Mercedes. It was never previously announced for the rear wheel drive platforms… only a “B” platform product. Does the existence of the mule G at a Mercedes testing platform indicate that a platform or engine will be shared?” It’s too early to tell. We can see a shared platform… but not an engine family. It’s too important from a marketing and brand standpoint for each brand to have their own engine in their own products. Adding to this is the recent trademark filing by Infiniti of “G35H”, “G30t”, and “G22d”. This all makes sense, since the M37H mechanics are easily transferred back to the G, a small diesel engine is needed for Europe (smaller than the current 3 liter Europe-only diesel), and a “G30t” would be a 3 liter turbo V-6.  The Nissan VQ engine already comes in displacements ranging from 2 liters to 4 – so  a 3 liter V-6 with a single (and hopefully twin) turbo makes sense. Call it a “Nissan EcoBoost” – which would be a very good thing. Or a downsized “GT-R engine..!  We also know that a supercharged 2.5 liter inline 4 is under development and this could provide an entry-level engine for the G series… and the Z.

So now we are in the waiting period… just as we have been before with the last G and Z. In terms of the timing, consider this: we first saw a full engineering prototype of the North American 2009 370Z in July 2008. And an engineering mule built from a shortened and widened 350Z two years before production. Taking past history as a guide, that would indicate that a new G will be introduced at the New York Auto Show in 2013, and will go on sale that fall as a 2014. Put a new Z (if indeed FM-based) on the calendar for one year later.

Our concern? The current G (and Z) is becoming aged and out-of-date. We had a slight update for 2010, then simply color changes for 2011 and 2012. Meanwhile BMW is moving quickly ahead and Infiniti sales as a whole are slowing. In our opinion, Infiniti needs a new G and it needs it now.

It’s also possible that the Skyline will be replaced with a non-FM based platform. Leaving Infiniti on exclusive platforms, free to come to Japan at last, and moving upmarket to more directly correspond to the completion (BMW 3, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes C). Skyline would then become more practical (very likely in energy-conscious Japan) with a range of engines underneath the current 2.5 and 3.7 liter V-6 engines (neither of which are particularly fuel-efficient).  The Skyline brand has a rich history going back to 1957 and is one of the top Nissan brands of all time. It will certainly continue, but in what form?

: GOING WAY OUT ON A LIMB

So let’s go out, way out, on a limb and make a prediction, ’cause it’s fun. Based solely on our read of the market (and without any insider information) and what we (as a current G owner) would like to see:

  • 2013 Nissan Maxima: last model year, then cancelled. Thru neglect and lack of differentiation has lost it’s brand value
  • 2013 Infiniti EX35: last model year, then cancelled. EX has not been a market success.
  • 2014 Infiniti G: Evolved FM platform (see below). Depending on worldwide market requirements (but engineered for all): 2.2 liter diesel (all-new engine), 300 HP 2.5 liter supercharged inline 4 (all-new engine), 370 HP 3.5 liter hybrid V-6 (existing engine, with addition of direct injection and updated batteries), 380 HP direct-injected 3 liter twin-turbo V-6 (update of existing engine family). Engine availability varies by market. 6-speed manual (existing, to be replaced in 2017 with new 7-speed) and 8-speed automatic (update of current 7-speed). Both rear wheel drive and all wheel drive. Size just slightly wider than current model. 4-door sedan and coupe. Popular “S” model continues to be offered.  Premiers slightly updated (and fully common across all usage). Continues to be offered in Rear and AWD forms. Overall weight reduced 150 pounds due to extensive use of high-strength steel and aluminum.
  • 2014 Nissan Skyline (worldwide market, JDM, North America, China, Europe): slightly lengthened worldwide Altima platform with every possible luxury. Supercharged 300 HP 2.5 liter inline 4 standard. Makes use of a common platform, but positions it appropriately against the Altima – which has moved up-market for 2012. New Nissan Murano and Infiniti JX (sharing same platform) to follow 2 years later. Replaces the Maxima in the North American market. The famous Skyline brand will now be available worldwide!
  • 2014 GT-R: carryover with minor suspension tuning updates.
  • 2014 Nissan Fuga. Cancelled. “Fuga” has no brand value, hence car will be replaced with the 2015 Infiniti M.
  • 2015 Nissan Z:  Re-branded as simply “Z”, offering the 300 HP supercharged 4 as standard and the 380 HP 3 liter turbocharged V-6 in the track model. Nismo returns as a track-ready suspension and option-delete offering with 400 HP via enhanced 2-mode exhaust system (where NVH is not as great a concern). V-6 model drops 100 pounds, 4 cylinder drops a further 85.
  • 2015 GT-R and Infiniti “Essence“: sharing the new worldwide FM platform, in AWD form, offering a 580-HP twin-turbo 3.8 liter V-6, with direct injection and an updated hybrid drivetrain with 9 forward gears. Reducing weight is the priority of this new generation, although the drivetrain is an evolution of the current GT-R and M hybrid parts. Benefits significantly from the updated lighter-weight FM platform, but uses several exclusive carbon fiber body parts (hood, front fenders, doors, roof, hatch) to reduce weight even further (-300 from current car) to more than offset the weight of the battery pack at the expense of increased production cost. Mitigates costs by using an off-the-shelf Getrag 9-speed automatic, shared with 2015 M, making extensive use of electronics and offering multiple algorithms (including manual shift), and mounted conventionally behind the engine rather than as a transaxle. Thus the chassis is also conventional FM rather than a heavily modified (and heavier in weight) FM+ as in the current GT-R. Priorities: get the weight down, commonality underneath.
  • 2015 Infiniti M: up-sized evolution of 2014 G, 3 liter diesel, 3.5 liter hybrid V-6, and 380-HP 3 liter turbo V-6 (differing from the G in the use of the GT-R 9-speed transmission). Drops V-8 engine. The ultimate luxury flagship of Infiniti, with a particular focus on electronics for entertainment and drivers aids.
  • 2015 FX30: replacing the EX35 with a fastback coupe modeled on the 2014 Infiniti G sedan. Analogous to the G as the Audi S7 is to the Audi A6. Offered solely with the 400 HP direct-injected 3 liter twin-turbo V-6. Drops V-8 engine. “S” model provides suspension and appearance options only, same engine. Moves towards ultra-luxury and sportiness, rather than as the current crossover CUV. The FX was technically never an SUV, and this upmarket move results in better competition against Audi and BMW. And S. Vettel would be better served!

FM platform update summary:

  • Platform evolution and 100% commonality across all users (Z, G, M, FX, GT-R, Essence) allows for better cost effectiveness of parts such as otherwise very-expense alloy forgings. Continues to be aluminum-intensive for all possible parts, including crossmembers. Optimization and gram-analysis reduces weight and increases strength where possible.
  • Engineered for drivetrain commonality, although all drivetrains will not be offered in all markets. Single platform supports rear- or all-wheel drive, hybrid battery pack in rear trunk area, hybrid automatic transmission.
  • 100% front suspension commonality across rear- and all-wheel drive models (versus current FM platform, where components such as uprights vary across different models).
  • 100% rear suspension commonality across rear- and all-wheel drive models, with and without rear steering. Coilover rear eliminates heavy rear lower control arm (replaced with steel), cleans up packaging, and is a nod towards more extreme GT-R requirements.
  • Consistent ride height and tire heights across all FM variants. 18, 19, and 20″ wheels offered. Widths depend on usage.
  • Elimination of “tall” CUV FX suspension, as FX becomes a “fastback G”.

Engine Summary:

  • 2.5 liter inline 4 DOHC, direct-injection, VVEL, supercharged. Jointly designed with Mercedes, built for both in Mexico starting in 2014. Exclusive to Infiniti and Nissan Z. Technological competitive example: 2015 Ford 2.3 Ecoboost: 300 HP and at least 32 MPG in a 3500 pound Mustang.
  • 3 liter V-6 DOHC, direct-injection, VVEL, twin turbocharged. 380 HP (126 HP/liter. Somewhat less per liter than the current GT-R engine). Exclusive to Infiniti and Nissan Z. Built in North America starting in 2014. Better overall mileage than the current naturally aspirated 3.7 liter engine, far-better part-throttle and off-boost mileage, and far better NVH. Higher torque than 3.7 also allows use of numerically lower gearing. Coupled with 8-speed automatic (wide gear spread), an update to engine controls, and lower weights, mileage will improve 15%.
  • 3.5 liter V-6 DOHC, direct-injection, VVEL, hybrid electric. 370 HP. Exclusive to Infiniti. Production moved to North America for 2014.
  • 3.7 liter V-6 DOHC: cancelled.
  • 3.8 liter V-6 DOHC: exclusive to GT-R and Essence. Updated with direct injection and addition of hybrid components from the G/M35h. Getrag 9-speed for improved mileage and acceleration.
  • 5 and 5.6 liter V-8 DOHC: both cancelled.

: COMING BACK IN OFF THE LIMB

That was fun, but only time will truly tell. We’re right at the point where further spy pictures should be appearing. Look for them, and watch the news for any announcements of new production plants outside of Japan (as well as for news of Japan production plants closing).

Reference: review the current Japanese domestic market FM-based products:

Nissan Skyline

Nissan Fuga

Nissan Fairlady

 

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