The Infiniti Q45, relaunched to attain flagship status in the U.S. for the Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. luxury division, has not lived up to expectations. Its weak sales are in contrast to several recent successful launches by the Japanese car maker that has made few wrong moves of late.

The auto maker relaunched the V-8 powered Q45 in March 2001, with promises to elevate the status of the luxury sedan. The “new Q” was to be emblematic of Infiniti’s future and revitalized direction – the first major launch after the Nissan Revival Plan (NRP) got into full swing. The NRP, a global turnaround strategy to pull the company from the brink of bankruptcy and rejuvenate its brand image, has been largely successful, culminating in the recent triumph of the new Altima sedan.

Sales of the Q45, however, have fallen far short of the mark. “We wish we were selling more, but it’s tougher to overcome the prestige of the competitors – even with a great product,” says Jack Collins, vice president-product planning, at a recent media event to launch Infiniti’s new G35 sport sedan.

At the time of the Q’s launch, officials would not put a finger on projected sales, but offered a range of between 10,000-25,000 units. The 10,000-unit mark, insiders then indicated, was the most conservative of possibilities.

But last year’s Q45 sales totaled only 5,726 units. For the ’02 model year (beginning in Oct. 2001), Infiniti has sold 1,521 units through January – on track to sell short of just 5,000 units in the current model year. Sales for the model year exceed same-period, prior-year sales by 398 units, which, while representing a 35% rise, is not that dramatic considering the prior-year period was during phase-out of the Q’s aged, previous generation.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus luxury division flagship, the LS 430, has proven to be formidable competition, with sales of 31,110 units in 2001 and sales of 8,408 units so far this model year, on pace to end the year down from last year, when the vehicle was new but still above 25,000 units.

This may be particularly painful for Infiniti. Officials, in reintroducing the new Q45, made it clear they wanted to stop chasing Lexus in the marketplace, differentiating their product through a significant horsepower boost and a raft of tech-heavy gadgets.

The Q45, with a base price of $50,500, also has failed to make inroads into BMW AG or Mercedes-Benz territory. Despite disappointing volume, Collins says the Q45 is selling at a much higher transaction price – an average $10,000 higher than the previous model.

And, he says, it nonetheless is boosting Infiniti’s brand image and is attracting more quality foot traffic into dealers. This could prove to be a boost to the just-introduced G35 sedan and other products to follow in the next 12 months – including a G35 coupe, FX45 cross/utility vehicle, a midsize V-8 luxury sedan smaller than the Q45 and an unnamed fourth product.