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Infiniti unveils luxury sports car at Detroit show

Jeff Karoub, AP Business Writer

Infiniti Chief Creative Officer Shiro Nakamura stands next to the newly unveiled Q50 sedan, at the North American International Auto Show, Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Detroit, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

DETROIT (AP) -- Cirque du Soleil helped Infiniti unveil a sports sedan Monday at the North American International Auto Show.

The troupe's dancing, strutting and flipping could represent the moves needed for the luxury brand to reach its lofty goals in the global market.

The flashy debut of the Q50 came during press preview days at the Detroit auto show. It marks the first model to carry the new 'Q' badge that will be used in the product line of the Nissan-owned brand. The brand is trying to grow beyond its strong base in the United States, where it sold about 120,000 vehicles in 2012 — a 21.8 percent sales increase over the previous year.

"We are not yet ... as widely recognized as we need to be for success in the premium segments in China and Europe," Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen told The Associated Press. "It will be daunting. It will take time. We expect to have a fight on our hands."

The first salvo is a luxury sedan that Infiniti describes as possessing a "tight, athletic appearance," including an aggressive front end, dynamic wave shape and arched roofline. The car also comes with a camera-based stability system, which will prevent lane drift and adjust for road surface changes or crosswinds.

The renaming also plays into creating "brand mythology into the future," de Nysschen said. Putting all its cars and trucks under the Q name helps the brand for many reasons — including replenishing its supply of names.

"Q is Infiniti — Infiniti owns Q," he said. "It was the original Infiniti and it was also important as a maker of premium automobiles that we show the hierarchy of models," he said, adding that Q will be used for sedans, QX for crossovers and the "size of the number indicates the rank of the model."

De Nysschen said the brand also is working to further separate itself from Nissan and carve out a niche as a competitive alternative to the German luxury brands. That means diversifying its offerings, whether that means more models or additional features such as engines. The Q50 will be available this summer in North America with a 3.7-liter V6 or 3.5-liter hybrid engine.

Infiniti launched in 1989 primarily as a U.S. brand and now is available in about 50 countries.

IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland said "providing consistency across the brand" is a good move. She believes Infiniti's main task in expanding its reach will be by boosting its marketing efforts.

"Every time I drive an Infiniti, I think they could have higher sales because they're so fun to drive — they're the most German like of the Japanese (cars) when it comes to driving dynamics and perspective," she said.