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Infiniti has made a surgical marketing strike before it really begins pushing its first sport-utility vehicle, the QX4.

Why? Blame it on the holiday season.

Infiniti's market research shows that the upscale, brand-conscious people likely to buy the QX4 spend a lot of time traveling, said E.C. Mueller, QX4 model line manager. And much of that travel is done from Thanksgiving through yearend.


But Nissan Motor Corp. in Japan didn't deliver the QX4 to U.S. dealerships until early in November. So that left Infiniti with about two weeks to try to gain attention before the holidays.

Infiniti decided on a two-step marketing approach. First, it linked the QX4 to the fall launch of the new Q45 sedan. Some of the marketing and leasing materials for that car noted the soon-to-arrive sport-utility.

Infiniti also has run some QX4 ads in buff magazines.

The next step: a widespread print and TV advertising campaign from TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif. It will begin in January, when prospective buyers are ready to shop again.

Infiniti officials are encouraged by the early results. Infiniti's 148 dealers had sold out their initial allocation of 325 QX4s within four days of the vehicle's official on-sale date of Nov. 11.

Overall, Infiniti expects to sell about 14,000 QX4 units in the 1997 model year, Mr. Mueller said.

The QX4 is based on the Nissan Pathfinder platform, but fitted with a new hood, grille and side cladding designed to give it a more muscular look. It also has an electrohydraulic all-wheel-drive system adapted from the Japanese market Skyline GT-R high-performance sports coupe. Infiniti expects that about half of QX4 buyers will be getting out of a luxury sedan for the sport-utility.

With a base price of $36,045, which includes a $495 destination charge, Infiniti hopes to undercut rivals such as the Lexus LX 450 on price, while topping the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee in sophistication and dealer service, Mr. Mueller said.


It also gives Infiniti a foothold in the luxury segment of the sport-utility market, "which has gone from not being a segment at all to being the most cutthroat segment in just two years," Mr. Mueller said.

That competition will intensify next year when Mercedes-Benz of North America launches its Alabama-built M-class sport-utility, which Mr. Mueller sizes up as a direct competitor to the QX4 in terms of size, performance and expected price.

Mr. Jewett is engineering editor at Automotive News.

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