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Big push in premium battle: Infiniti has Audi in its crosshairs

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Nissan will invest $10-$13 billion to develop its premium models, (from left) the Etherea, the Essence and the Emerg-E.

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Nissan will invest $10-$13 billion to develop its premium models, (from left) the Etherea, the Essence and the Emerg-E.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- While premium automobile brands may account for only 12 per cent of the overall market share in the automotive world, they generate 50 per cent of the profits for the automakers that hold them, Infiniti president Johan De Nysschen revealed. This largely explains why part of Nissan's corporate strategy through the year 2020 is to invest between $10 billion and $13 billion in the Infiniti brand in a bold effort to gain market share worldwide in the premium segment.

"It's a matter of investment into new products, new technologies, investment in manufacturing capacity, into the brand and the dealer networks," De Nysschen said during an interview at the Nissan 360 event. "Now, I must hasten to add, we have not been given a blank cheque by our parent company with which we can go and play. We have to pay our own way and, while the strategic plan has been approved, there are important milestones of reconfirmation and the projects we embark on have to meet the internal targets, and we have to deliver on our commitments and generate the financial means to continue that kind of investment.

"It's not as if we are sitting on $13 billion that we can play with. We have to create it."

Part of De Nysschen's strategy to grow the brand is to introduce new models in segments where Infiniti is not currently a player, such as the compact premium market, which will see the arrival of the Q30 for the 2015 model year. The Q30 will be preceded by the Q30 concept, to be unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show in September. The styling, as revealed in a teaser image, borrows many elements from the Etherea and Emerg-E concept cars introduced by Infiniti recently and it is expected the Q30 will be powered by four-cylinder engines developed by Mercedes-Benz as part of a collaboration. Also, the production vehicle will share the platform used by the Mercedes-Benz CLA and a QX30 crossover version should logically follow the Q30 in Infiniti's lineup.

"The quality of the interior of that car is going to be absolutely benchmarked. It is going to be the kind of interior you would expect from a vehicle positioned far higher in the premium market, both in terms of size and price," De Nysschen said. "There is a certain manufacturer that likes to think it leads the rest of the industry when it comes to the quality of interiors. We have our sights very firmly set on taking away that prize, and the new Infiniti Q30 will be just a hint of what's to come in that area as well."

Although De Nysschen did not identify that brand by name, it is clear Infiniti has Audi in its crosshairs. A former executive at Audi, De Nysschen's first move at Infiniti was to ditch the Byzantine nomenclature of the brand's models and to adopt the letter "Q" followed by a numerical designation for all future models, just as the German carmaker did many years ago. It only makes sense he now wants to match or exceed the level of interior craftsmanship that has been a major contributor to Audi's sales success.

"The great brands are not built overnight. It is almost a journey that never ends and I think that 10 years from now, you will see a very different Infiniti than what you see today, but in 20 years, it will be different still," De Nysschen said.

"There is a good example with Audi. Look how many years they have been working on developing their brand -- it's more than 20 years. I don't think that they would claim to be where they really want to be, but that's how long it takes."

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2013 E6

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