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Infiniti must stay in Australia, US exec says

Join the Q: Infiniti expects to add models such as the Q30 hatchback (concept version seen here) to its global suite of products destined for markets such as Australia.

A presence in Australia necessary to make Infiniti a global brand, executive says

28 Apr 2014

INFINITI must have a foothold in Australia if it truly wants to call itself a global brand, one of the luxury car-maker’s most senior executives says.

Michael Bartsch, an Australian-born former sales and marketing executive for GM Holden, Hyundai and Porsche Cars Australia who now holds the second-most senior role at Infiniti Americas, said the Japanese luxury brand had to invest here despite the market’s tough conditions.

He said a slow start for the brand since its launch here in late 2012 was “symptomatic” of the Australian market, which was one of the toughest worldwide.

“It is so oversubscribed that there are more brands in Australia than anywhere else in the world – you have all the Chinese brands, all the Korean brands, the Indian brands,” Mr Bartsch said while speaking with GoAuto in New York last week.

“The fundamental problem with Australia is it is just simply over-supplied – too many brands, too fractured – and it’s got nothing to do with whether the product is suited to the Australian market.”

However, he said for brands such as Infiniti, what suited the US market was also a good fit for Australia’s buyers.

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“The demographics, the thinking, the mindset – the Australian and American markets are so similar,” Mr Bartsch said.

Since its launch in Australia, Infiniti has struggled to attract buyers to the brand in significant numbers, despite big price cuts across its showroom in September last year aimed at boosting lacklustre sales.

In 2013, in its first full year of sales, Infiniti only managed to attract 304 new-car buyers to the brand, compared with almost 7000 for its more established luxury car rival, Lexus.

In the first three months of this year, Infiniti has managed only 93 sales compared with Lexus’s 1722.

However, the brand has recently introduced its new Q50 in diesel and hybrid guise, with a traditional turbo-petrol version to follow, and also plans on adding new models including the more city-friendly Q30 hatchback – as well as its soft-roader spin-off – to help build sales.

Mr Bartsch said despite the slow start, Infiniti would still have taken a plunge into the Australian market some time soon if it wanted to be called a global brand.

“You have to make the investment and you have to start somewhere – where and when I don’t know.

“In some ways you could argue it is a very good time (for Infiniti to launch in Australia) if Ford and Toyota and General Motors are pulling out,” he said.

“Infiniti wants to be a global brand, and you’ve got to be in China, you’ve got to be in Europe, and Australia is part of the international community.

“I think it’s the right thing.”

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