How Infiniti's Q Model Names Were Inspired by the British Royal Navy

Random letters do not belong in car names. They always should stand for something, be it all-wheel drive denoted by a generic X, or a motorsport pedigree, in the case of BMW’s M. This is one of the issues with Infiniti, which has as much brand identity as its model designation Q has obvious meaning. Looking at it, most people wonder qué? But as it turns out, Infiniti didn’t choose this letter to be Qte with us. Its cars are named for the British parlance for a “sleeper,” which in turn was derived from a class of warship conceived in World War I.

Infiniti’s use of Q dates back as far as the brand itself, with the letter first appearing on its flagship sedan the Q45. Essentially a fancier, high-performing version of the Japan-only Nissan President, this full-size executive sedan had frumpy looks that belied a 4.5-liter V8, whose 272 horsepower and 298 pound-feet of torque made it a good deal more powerful than the Lexus LS400, and nearly two seconds quicker from zero to 60. It was definitely what the Brits would call a Q-car; their term for what we call sleepers—unassuming, but blisteringly quick vehicles.

2020 Infiniti Q60 Edition 30

Though Q-car sounds like a term from the James Bond universe, it hails not from Ian Fleming’s fantasy world, but a component of his actual past as an intelligence officer in the Royal Navy. For a period in World War II, Fleming was attached to the HMS President (top); a vessel the Royal Navy classified as a Q-ship.

These ships were conceived in 1915, when the British Isles’ shipping lanes were strangled by stealthy undersea assassins for what wouldn’t be the last time. Faced with this unprecedented menace, the Royal Navy fitted numerous merchant vessels with hidden artillery, filled their holds with buoyant cargo to increase survivability if torpedoed, and sent them out either on their own or with minimal escort. Hopes were that German captains would see an apparently unarmed ship and, rather than use one of their limited torpedoes, surface to fire their deck guns, only to come under unexpected return fire.

HMS President circa 1918

Q-ships plied this risky strategy to sink multiple U-boats in mid-1915, though the Germans eventually caught on to the trap, and by the end of the war, Britain had traded Q-ships for U-boats at an almost 2:1 ratio. Q-ships were given another shot by during World War II, with the United States Navy notably deploying them along the east coast, but to little success (one even sank on its first patrol).

In retrospect, Infiniti’s decision to name models for Q-cars—and thus indirectly Q-ships—is a bit unfortunate. The brand’s initially strong showing against its intended targets the Germans didn’t last, and over time, poor performance forced Infiniti to withdraw its Qs from the hard-fought front of the Western European car market and retreat to its sales strongholds of the Americas and Japan. So with its parent company Nissan in dire financial straits and Infiniti in the same boat (no pun intended), perhaps Infiniti’s Qs have as limited a shelf life—much like their seafaring namesakes had.

2022 Infiniti QX55 AWD

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