A halo vehicle could help, and the company showed the Q80 Inspiration concept as a vision for one at the 2014 Paris auto show. But this month in Detroit, Ghosn said it was premature to talk about a production version of a high-flying flagship.
As a placeholder, Infiniti unveiled the Q60 coupe, with an optional 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 delivering up to 400 hp. "It's definitely a brand shaper," Infiniti President Roland Krueger said. Its emphasis on sporty design, powerful engines, electronic suspension control and technology tailoring the car to individual driving styles are all signs of things to come.
Ghosn said the Q60, which goes on sale by midyear, will push Infiniti past its 2015 global sales record of 215,250 vehicles. Still, Infiniti is a long way from Ghosn's goal of taking 10 percent of the global luxury market. Infiniti has just more than 2.5 percent, reckons Krueger.
In the U.S., Infiniti's sales climbed 14 percent to 133,498 vehicles last year, just shy of the record 136,401 it sold in 2005.
Acura is coming off its fourth straight year of U.S. sales growth. Sales rose 5.6 percent to 177,165, and Mendel expects Acura's U.S. volume to gain another 5 to 10 percent this year. Acura's peak also was 2005, with 209,610.
Lexus booked its U.S. high last year. It capped a fourth consecutive year of growth with an 11 percent jump to 344,601.
Even with sexier cars, attempts to boost brand image don't grab hold overnight.
"It takes a long time for consumers to even notice it," said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst at IHS Automotive. "One product, followed by another, is not enough. You have to apply it consistently across the entire lineup."
Still, Lexus has high ambitions for the LC 500, a low-slung, rear-wheel-drive coupe with a 5.0-liter, V-8 engine that will crank out 467 hp. Pricing will start at nearly $100,000.
Mark Templin, executive vice president of Lexus International, expects the car to go up against Aston Martin, Porsche and Maserati, leapfrogging Germany's Big 3 altogether.
Lexus aims to sell 6,600 of the Japan-made LC 500s a year globally, with nearly three-quarters of the volume coming from the U.S. To keep the car fresh, Lexus expects to introduce variants. The car's new modular platform, which will underpin all future rwd cars at Lexus, is even engineered to support a convertible, engineers said, though executives have not confirmed any plans for a droptop.
"We've redone all the SUVs. The next step is more emotional halo cars," Mr. Templin said. "What you see there is the next chapter in that move toward a more emotional brand."