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At 25, Infiniti Brand Is Still Trying to Get Off the Dime in US and Globally

Posted by Dale Buss on January 14, 2014 01:42 PM

Infiniti's owners, Nissan, may have hoped their growth concerns would be solved when the automaker hired Johan de Nysschen away from Audi of America to helm the luxury Infiniti brand worldwide. But so far de Nysschen hasn't been able to effectively apply his old magic, and Infiniti's growth has stalled while other premium marques have continued to accelerate.

De Nysschen appeared at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit today to declare that Infiniti's plans to grow dynamically have not waned and that the brand intends to ride a combination of robust new vehicles bearing a fresh design language, new powertrains and more significant presence in new markets to greater success.

Infiniti willl "move well beyond 500,000 units by 2020" in worldwide sales, de Nysschen declared at the show, which is actually somewhat short of the 600,000-unit goal that was reported for the brand when it hired the accomplished auto chief from a great tenure leading Audi to annual double-digit sales gains in the US for several years running.

In the United States, its key market so far, last year Infiniti sales actually dropped to about 116,000 units from about 120,000 units in 2012 while other luxury marques, most notably German brands, advanced sales smartly in that market.

Infiniti debuted as a brand in 1989 at the Detroit auto show, and de Nysschen and Michael Bartsch, Infiniti's vice president of the Americas, commented at the Detroit Auto Show this week that Infiniti is likely to move about 125,000 vehicles in the United States during the current fiscal year ended in March as it pushes its US plan forward in the brand's 25th year.

Substantially, that growth will be driven by the impressive Q-series Q50 sedan that Infiniti introduced last year. Over the last two months in the US, Bartsch said, Infiniti has sold more than 10,000 Q50 units, and more than half of the buyers have been "conquest" customers.

Infiniti expects to introduce next year a version of its smaller Q30 sedan in the US, and it displayed a Q50 Eau Rouge concept vehicle at the show that is likely to influence future versions of the A50 and possibly a performance-focused sub-brand, much like how parent company Nissan has its GTR line-up.

Bartsch said the brand intends to continue to fill out Infiniti's product lineup in the United States, where at this point it is represented in only segments that account for 58 percent of American luxury-car sales.

Globally, de Nysschen said, China is key. Infiniti will open a plant in China later this year. And as if to underscore Infiniti's global brand relevance, he noted in Detroit that songstress Katy Perry had just performed for Infiniti at an event in China.

As Infiniti relies on new products, new markets and a newly evolving design language to finally accelerate to previously hoped volumes, de Nysschen said, "We'll be a significant player in the premium market, but we'll still be small enough to be able to be exclusive."'

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