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Exclusive: Infiniti gears up for bumper year

Up and away: In 2012, Infiniti had three dealers in Australia but this year an extra three retail centres have been added, as well as two service centres.

Infiniti expecting growth in Aus from new-model roll-out and dealer expansion

Infiniti logo7 Jun 2016

INFINITI’S slow growth in Australia is set to pick up the pace in the next 12 months with the company hoping for a significant lift in brand awareness on the back of a rollout of critical new models and a dealer network expansion.

The Japanese luxury car-maker will enter the booming premium small hatch and crossover markets later this year with the Q30 and QX30 twins, while the arrival of the striking Q60 coupe late in 2016 will cap off a busy six months and provide Infiniti with a halo model in Australia.

These models, along with a refreshed Q50 mid-sizer that ushers in a new twin-turbo V6 powertrain offered in two states of tune – 224kW and the more potent 298kW version – are expected to give Infiniti’s relatively low sales a boost, while the addition of three new dealerships (one in Perth and two in Sydney) and a further two service centres (Canberra and Adelaide) is expected to give the brand more visibility Down Under.

In an exclusive interview with GoAuto, Infiniti Cars Australia managing director Jean-Philippe Roux said he has maintained a similar growth strategy as his predecessors in the 18 months since he started in the role, but added that brand awareness had gained pace in recent months.

“It (the strategy) revolves around brand awareness, product and network,” he said. “And they are very much working together, they are not isolated. What we have done is maybe accelerate a little bit more on some of the aspects of the strategy. So if I take brand awareness, we injected a little bit more marketing money into the country.” Mr Roux said the car-maker had, since the start of the year, rolled out new TV commercials, engaged in marketing activations around the country, launched a new consumer website as part of a focus on digital marketing and announced the additional dealerships.

“The reason we are doing so is so the brand, the network and the product are travelling along together. You cannot expand a network if you don’t have a product plan. The products are coming, therefore we can expand the networks and offer some volume to our partners,” he said.

In 2013 – the Nissan-owned brand’s first full year of sales in Australia – Infiniti sold 304 units from its three dealerships (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) and from a line-up of just three ageing models (M sedan, G coupe and convertible, FX SUV).

This grew to 441 units in 2014, largely on the back of the BMW 3 Series-fighting Q50, before hitting a high in 2015 with 574 units, led again by the Q50.

So far this year, Infiniti has sold 297 cars, which is a 34.4 per cent leap over the first five months of 2015.

While the volumes are low compared with its traditional premium rivals, each model in the line-up has lifted this year.

The Q50 is up by 29.6 per cent to 149 units, the QX70 SUV up by 4.1 per cent to 76 sales, the recently launched Q70 sedan is 136.4 per cent ahead of 2015 with 26, while the soon-to-be-replaced Q60 and the massive QX80 eight-seat SUV are on 25 and 21 sales respectively.

 center imageLeft: Infiniti Australia managing director Jean-Philippe Roux. Mr Roux declined to give sales projections but said he expected the interest in Infiniti to increase in the second half of the year following the launch of the Q30, QX30 and Q60.

“I am very excited by the fact we get new dealers joining us. That should have an effect first. And new products will have an effect as well so we would expect that growth to actually increase towards the end of the year,” he said.

“We are currently growing on the back of the current product plan, but as we appoint new dealers and at the same time launching new cars, we should be seeing an uplift in terms of our growth rate.” Despite the relatively low take-up of the Nissan Patrol-based QX80 SUV since it launched last year – 58 have found homes since its July 2015 launch compared with the similarly positioned Lexus LX that has shifted 97 units this year alone – Mr Roux said he was satisfied with the interest in the hulking all-terrain wagon.

“We have been positively surprised and happy with the traction we are getting on QX80,” he said. “Coming from an angle where, back in July, the press was asking ‘why are you doing this?’ It is confirmation that there is space for such a car in the market and that with the right price, the right technology we can attract customers to that product. It’s not big volumes.” Mr Roux said it would be unfair to measure Infiniti’s success purely based on sales figures given it is a newly launched brand in a highly competitive marketplace.

“We are here for the long term, we are committed to the market and as such we are sustainable. As long as we keep growing, as long as we keep doing the right things, there is an agreement with the global headquarters that we are on the right track. The measure of success cannot only be driven by volume. It is different elements in terms of brand awareness growth, dealer network growth,” he said.

“In our matrix there are different criteria in terms of success. How do you measure success? It cannot be market share because market share in our case doesn’t make sense. It’s tiny. Let’s agree on a roadmap and the roadmap is across brand awareness, product and network and if we are delivering on the roadmap, success will be down the road.” Mr Roux said there was no “magic trick” to capturing the attention of Australian consumers and standing out among the growing number of premium brands in Australia, adding that consistency was the key.

“It is to very much be delivering on those basics and, first things first, you need to put more cars on the road. How do you do that? By growing your network coverage, which doesn’t mean ‘over-dealerising’ and covering every single corner of Australia, but putting in the right partners in the right sections of Australia. And advertising to drive enquiries and ensuring we talk to the right customers,” he said.

“It is about delivering on this on a consistent basis. Premium has a lot to do with consistency. If we are being consistent in the way we are advertising, the right assets, the right brand image, ultimately we will get some results.” Like a number of other premium brands, Infiniti is looking to appeal to buyers of mainstream brands seeking to move into higher-end cars, Mr Roux said.

“If you are looking at how now premium is becoming increasingly accessible from a product perspective and from a price perspective, premium has never been as accessible as it is today. Any premium car manufacturer today would be looking at attracting upgraders,” he said.

“So, yes, we are also looking at what could be done to attract upgraders.” When asked whether he thought the more established brands in the premium space rated Infiniti as a genuine contender, Mr Roux responded: “I don’t think so. I don’t know.” “We have to chase our own objectives, our own sales targets, and own brand awareness targets. I think they are in a slightly different league. I am personally watching what they are doing because (there is) a lot to be learned,” he said.

The imminent launch of Hyundai’s Genesis luxury sister brand is not seen as a threat to Infiniti, according to Mr Roux, and instead, a validation that it is having an impact globally.

“It is interesting for us because it means that it is a confirmation that what we are doing is right. It is confirmation that brand manufacturers – Kia/Hyundai is a very important one – have looked at the market and also decided to develop a premium offering. For us it is confirmation that Infiniti is a possibility for us in the market so it is a good signal for us overall.”

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