Infiniti and beyond: a less Japanese, more Latin look for premium automaker

Sat May 24, 2014 10:07pm EDT
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By Norihiko Shirouzu and Yoko Kubota

BEIJING/ATSUGI Japan (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co is looking to give its Infiniti premium brand a design makeover that will dilute its Japanese roots and flaunt a more "passionate" Latin feel.

The bold initiative aims to rev up an upscale brand that has struggled to establish itself in a competitive global market for premium autos. Launched a quarter of a century ago in the United States with an emphasis on its Japanese aesthetics, Infiniti sold about 180,000 cars globally in the year to end-March - about a tenth of rival Audi's sales.

Now seeking to attract Chinese car buyers and more genuinely compete with established global premium brands such as Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen's Audi, Infiniti is quietly scaling back its Japanese roots and "going global", says the brand's chief Johan de Nysschen.

To stand apart from "cold and clinical"-looking German rivals, Infiniti aims to be "a seductive provocateur ... to attract people, seduce, be emotional" de Nysschen, a South African former Audi executive, said in a recent interview in Beijing. Infiniti is going "Latin, very Latin," he said, noting the recently launched Q50 sedan offers a strong hint at that new design direction.

De Nysschen wants to boost Infiniti sales to half a million cars a year in the next 4-5 years, with a fifth of those sold in China, the world's biggest autos market. That's a big jump from the 21,000 cars it sold in China in the year to March. For comparison, Audi sold 1.6 million cars worldwide in 2013, including 492,000 in China.

The Infiniti targets are "very ambitious" if not impossible, said John A. Casesa, senior managing director of investment banking at Guggenheim Securities in New York and a veteran auto industry observer.

"It will take a terrific amount of time and money to achieve any measure of success. The dominance of the German luxury brands says clearly that success is a result of cumulative efforts over a long period of time. You'd have to do great cars again and again and again. That might be for 10, 15, 20 years."


The new Infiniti Q50 sports sedan is seen during its launching in Hong Kong May 22, 2014.  REUTERS/Tyrone Siu