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Infiniti aims over the horizon

Q forming: Infiniti's biggest launch this year will be the Q30 hatch (below) but the Q60 coupe (left) also arrives in 2016.

'Milestone' year as Infiniti pushes more cars, dealers and takes battle to Lexus

16 Feb 2016

JUST four years on from its launch in Australia, Japanese luxury brand Infiniti is “stomping on the gas pedal” as it prepares for its biggest product roll-out and dealer expansion since inception.

The Nissan-owned brand has had to contend with a small line-up of models, some in niche sales categories, but all if that is about to change, according to Infiniti Australia managing director Jean-Philippe Roux.

“This will be our milestone year,” he told GoAuto in Melbourne at this week's Q70 sedan launch.

“We have four new products towards the end of the year and will finalise up to 10 new dealerships across the country.” Powered by the Renault-Nissan alliance and including the hybrid technology of the group’s Formula One Team, Infiniti has a bumper year of car launches that started this week with the refreshed Q70 sedan range.

It will quicken the pace in the third quarter of this year with its first small car, the Q30 hatchback, which shares a platform with the Mercedes-Benz GLA crossover.

“Q30 is a very important car for us – it’s a game changer,” Mr Roux said. “We haven’t discussed pricing but it will be competitive.” The Q30 will compete with models including the Lexus CT hatch (priced from $37,990 to $54,990), Audi's A3 Sportback ($36,500-$46,100), BMW 1 Series ($36,900-$48,900) and Mercedes A-Class ($37,200-$53,500) – indicating the baby Infiniti will be a mid-to-high $30,000s opener.

Mr Roux was at pains to separate the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and GLA from the United Kingdom-built Infiniti Q30 and its QX30 crossover sibling.

He said Infiniti went through 52 variations of suspension tuning on the front-wheel drive Q30 to ensure it had distinct ride and comfort characteristics that were different from the Benz.

 center imageLeft: Infiniti Australia managing director Jean-Philippe Roux. “It is not the same as the Mercedes models,” he said. “It shares platforms and engines with the GLA (SUV), not the A-Class hatch and (CLA) sedan and even rides a bit higher.

“The QX30 is all-wheel drive and has a higher ground clearance than the Q30.” “The Q30 will have a measureable impact on our sales. It is an example that premium cars are becoming more accessible so, given this market, the Q30 – and the QX30 SUV that follows – are critical.” Infiniti will add the QX30 – also component-shared with the GLA – about two weeks after the Q30, then the highly anticipated new-generation Q60 coupe that was revealed earlier this year in production guise at the Detroit motor show arrives in November.

Following that, the updated Q50 sedan – including a 300kW sports sedan model – lands in Infiniti showrooms in December.

“In 2017, there will be more product,” said Mr Roux.

While he declined to talk about the future product offerings, they may include a new-generation version of the QX50 crossover that is not sold in Australia and possibly the QX60 seven-seat SUV.

But Infiniti, by its own admission, is constrained in its expansion plans.

“We lack exposure in the marketplace. It’s what we need to make everything else work,” he said.

“Our problem is that we are a new company and we have limited dealerships, so we’re not exposed to our audience and not yet high on the shopping list of our potential customers.

“This will take time. But we know that we have to expand the dealer network and brand awareness.

“Our volume is strong enough at the moment and we’re happy with sales, but with the Q30 and QX30, it will open new markets for us and we have to get them absolutely right.” Infiniti shifted 574 units last year, marking its best sales year in Australia, and marking a lift of more than 30 per cent over its 2014 haul.

The Q50 mid-size sedan was easily its best seller last year on 305 units, followed by the QX70 SUV (166) and the Q60 coupe and convertible (44).

Mr Roux said he wants up to 10 dealers by the end of 2016, starting next month with the opening of a franchise by prestige dealer Barbagallo in Perth.

It will be followed by a new site in Adelaide and then one extra dealer for south-east Queensland and two more each for Sydney and Melbourne. This is up from the three centres it launched with in 2012.

Infiniti demands that the brand sits separately from Nissan products on a showroom floor, ensuring they are regarded as distinct items with equally distinct buyers.

Barbagallo in Perth, for example, is not a Nissan dealer and will have a dedicated showroom for Infiniti.

Mr Roux said Infiniti is aimed at the professional man, with the brand appealing more to males aged 55 years and over, with an income of $150,000-$200,000 a year and who are “looking for something different”.

He admits Infiniti has been watching the progress of Hyundai’s Genesis – which it regards as a competitor – and fellow Japanese luxury car-maker Lexus.

“We look at Lexus and I admire the way they do things and get things done. They have been in Australia for 20 years and we can learn a lot from them.” One area is the Lexus hallmark of customer service.

“We’re looking at an enhanced customer service program. Hospitality is part of the Japanese DNA and I think it’s something we can enhance as part of the Infiniti ownership experience.” Mr Roux indicated that a new program for Infiniti customers could be ready as early as the third quarter.

“About the same time as we launch the Q30,” he said. “It is important that any program be fully supported by our new dealer group, so we are concentrating our efforts there.” The customer service program will integrate with Infiniti Assure, its transparent service menu that outlines service costs before the maintenance period.

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