The future of Infiniti’s new Etherea crossover is likely to hinge on production at Nissan’s Sunderland plant.
Based on a front-wheel drive platform that’s understood to be closely related to the next Mercedes B-class, the production Etherea can’t be built at Infiniti’s plant in Japan, which is equipped to build rear-drive models such as the G and M saloons and the EX and FX SUVs.
“It’s not impossible for the Etherea to be built at Sunderland, but it’s not decided yet,” said Jim Wright, boss of Infiniti Europe. Establishing production in the UK would also position output closest to the biggest market for the compact crossover.
Wright said the switch to front-wheel drive for the Etherea poses “many production questions” but added, “It doesn’t necessarily need to be built in Japan.”
The 4.4m-long Etherea concept shares its platform with the Qashqai, including the all-important engine compartment and firewall. Production is planned for 2014, which gives Nissan about 12 months to decide where to make the car.
The switch to front-wheel drive was forced on Infiniti because engineering studies of a small rear-drive car couldn’t deliver the right balance of tight external dimensions and sufficient cabin space, according to design chief Shiro Nakamura.
And given the sales success of the Qashqai and Juke, Infiniti predicts that a road-oriented crossover with a high driving position could score well against premium hatches such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1-series.
“We can’t do a ‘me too’ car; we have to be ground-breaking with a key point of differentiation,” said Wright.