I’m not going to lie, it still feels weird using “Stellantis” to refer to the combined Fiat-Chrysler-Peugeot-Citröen etc. supergroup, but, well, here we are. While not many of Stellantis’ plans are actually known yet, it’s never too early for me to start giving them some entirely unsolicited advice. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do, starting with this: if they really wanted to be the death of Renault-Nissan’s Infiniti premium brand, bringing the DS brand to America could do it. I’ll explain.
Infiniti started over 30 years ago as Nissan’s luxury brand in America, and it started quite strongly, with a well-defined and bold vision. Infiniti had a unique take on Japanese luxury, and made cars that reflected this elegant and appealing set of characteristics.
At first, at least. Over the years, Infiniti has lost more and more of its unique qualities, and today they’re making some nice enough SUVs and crossovers with weird D-pillars and a sedan and coupé no one really buys.
It’s not just me being cynical here; America, collectively and with its dollars has sent a pretty clear message to Infiniti that they really don’t give a shit.
As of the end of last year, Infiniti’s U.S. market share was 0.69 percent; Lexus, likely its most analogous rival in the premium-Japanese mainstream car/SUV market, has a 1.88 percent share and sales that are actually rising. If we’re going to be brutally honest, Infiniti is pretty boned.
Now, this is Renault-Nissan’s problem, not Stellantis’, but if Stellantis wanted to effectively eat Infiniti’s lunch here, I think they could.
Maybe Nissan-Renault could pour resources into Infiniti and try and re-vitalize the brand? Pivot to an all EV brand? Maybe. But, so far, we haven’t seen much movement that way.
DS started as a premium sub-brand of Citroën, named for the legendary Citroën DS, even though PSA claims it was for “Different Spirit” or “Distinctive Series,” but I think we all know that’s some “Dubious Shit.”
The DS brand has been an independent marque in China since 2012 and in Europe and other parts of the world (not America) since 2015. The DS hook has always been what Citroën does better than anyone else—quirkiness, but this time premium quirky.
As a result, the DS lineup, while certainly modern and premium-feeling and having essentially all of the expected features and electronic whatevers expected of a contemporary premium vehicle, still retains just a bit of that old-school Citroën weirdness to keep it just interesting and distinctive enough to give the marque a reason to exist, something that Infiniti absolutely lost.
I’ve earlier suggested that DS cars could be adapted to resurrect Chrysler, but now I’m thinking the brand should just be dropped right here into the U.S. as-is to fill an Infiniti-sized hole.
The DS model lineup includes plenty of those crossovers and SUVs that manage to print money for most carmakers, as well as some odder (for America) entries like premium small city cars, including a really novel cabrio version of the small DS3:
I mean, that’s pretty cool, right?
The styling is a little polarizing, with the DS 3 and 5 having that shark-fin B-pillar thing and some more ornate textural details on a lot of the models, but overall I feel they look sleek, modern, and, importantly, not exactly like everything else out there.
They do luxury in a memorable, idiosyncratic way, including some focus that harkens back to Infiniti’s early days, like when they used to make a big deal about having cool dashboard clocks:
As you can see, DS’ clock game is pretty on point as well:
There’s a lot of interesting, good-looking design happening here, and design motifs that genuinely do feel distinct from the other mainstream offerings.
And, that right there, is the key, and what Infiniti lost. If we’re really, really honest, all of the competitors in this space make cars that are generally about as good as one another, and do generally the same stuff, in generally the same way.
To get someone not to just default to a Lexus or a BMW or Mercedes or whatever, you need to not just try to play the same game, like Infiniti ended up doing, but rather do all you can to stand apart.
DS could be just that. DS likely won’t overtake Lexus, but it could carve out a niche for all of those buyers just sort of generally sick or bored with what’s out there. Buyers who don’t really want to actually give up any comfort or safety or features to get something really unusual or vintage, but are just daring enough to consider a less mainstream option.
Those buyers exist, and DS could give them that mix of otherness without the sacrifice.
Really, at this point, what does Stellantis have to lose? They don’t really have a direct marque to compete in this space in America (again, maybe Chrysler?) so why not drop in DS and paint a target on Infiniti’s back?
I mean, at this point, they can hardly do worse.