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Long road to success for Infiniti in Australia

Red alert: The Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge is likely to get the green light and will be something of a performance car hero for the brand.

New product in 2016 and beyond to boost market share for Infiniti in Australia

23 Sep 2014

NISSAN’S fledgling luxury brand Infiniti has reaffirmed its commitment to Australia and outlined its plan to achieve long-term sustainable growth in this super-competitive marketplace, despite slow initial sales and a senior management upheaval both here and abroad.

Since its launch in Australia in 2012 with a small model range and only three dealerships on the eastern seaboard, Infiniti has struggled to gain traction in the premium car market against the dominant German brands Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and other marques such as the Toyota’s luxury subsidiary Lexus.

Infiniti kicked off in Australia with two models – the M mid-size sedan and FX SUV, now called Q70 and QX70 respectively following a change in global naming convention earlier this year – before the arrival of the Q60 coupe and cabriolet (formerly G37) later in 2012.

Just 304 Infiniti cars were sold in Australia in 2013, but the arrival of the BMW 3 Series-fighting Q50 sedan in February this year has given the brand a shot in the arm, with 280 overall new registrations to the end of August, which represents a 35 per cent increase over last year.

At the launch of a crucial 2.0-litre turbo-petrol variant of the Q50 this week, Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery acknowledged that establishing the brand was a “serious challenge” but one that Nissan and Infiniti were prepared to undertake.

 center image Left: Outgoing Infiniti Cars Australia general manager Campbell York and Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery.

“Since I started at Nissan back in April, a number of you had asked me if and when Infiniti will pull out of Australia,” he said. “I suppose the answer has been and is again ... Infiniti is here for the long term,” he said.

“Building a premium brand in any market is a serious challenge, and to reconfirm, we are certainly up to it. Locally, we have maintained a steady pattern for some time now. We have focused on our first three dealers and we have simplified our model range and revised our pricing.” A host of all-new models are in the product development pipeline, including a volume-selling Q30 compact car and a crossover version, the QX30, along with the performance-leading Q50 Eau Rouge and an all-new Q80 flagship sedan to be shown in concept form at next week’s Paris motor show.

In the meantime, the next phase of Infiniti’s plans for growth in Australia kicks off with the appointment of Jean-Philippe Roux as managing director, replacing general manager Campbell York from November 1, while at a global level Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has poached BMW Group executive Roland Krueger to lead the brand after Johan de Nysschen left in July. (See separate stories linked below.) Mr York, who is now preparing to leave the company, told GoAuto this week that Mr Roux’s appointment was a “clear indication” of Infiniti’s commitment to the Australian market and determination to succeed.

He said a new national sales manager position has been created, for which the company is now recruiting, while other new roles including a sales analyst and further support for the marketing team and the dealer network are also likely in the coming months.

The changes at Infiniti Down Under are part of a wider restructure that has been overseen by Infiniti’s director of operations in Asia and Oceania, Dane Fisher, who Mr York said considers Australia as “probably his biggest priority”.

“Australia is a tough market,” Mr York said. “It is a first-world country. We have the best of every manufacturer here and we have a pretty savvy buyer profile. If you can cut it and be successful in Australia, you can cut it and be successful pretty well anywhere in the auto trade.” Outside of the Q50, Infiniti has only managed to find less than 150 buyers for the remaining models combined (to the end of August), with the QX70 SUV on just 88 sales, the Q60 coupe/cabriolet on 41 units and the BMW 5 Series-sized Q70 registering only 18 units year to date.

Mr York said the numbers were “largely in line” with what Infiniti was expecting, and that ageing models were restricting sales.

“We have an internal plan or expectation of where will be in another 12 months’ time and this year we have met that plan,” he said.

“We would like to be further ahead as soon as we can, but there’s the reality of time and products.

“The reality is we have an ageing product offering in those segments (Q70, Q60 and QX70). We have four-to-five-year-old cars in small segments competing with brand-new competitors from brands that, frankly, are a little bit more well-known than Infiniti is in those spaces.

“It’s not surprising to us that our volumes are relatively small.

“It would always be nicer to have the new shiny toys sooner rather than later. My personal belief is that we exist in a product-driven industry and if you have the right product in terms of design, features, quality and powertrains that people want and that appeal to growing macro trends of buyer behaviour – small cars, small SUVs, for example – then you are half way solved.” Infiniti’s global new-model rollout will see its range expand by 60 per cent by the end of this decade, according to reports quoting Infiniti EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) vice-president Francois Goupil de Bouille at the opening of the company’s new design studio in London last week.

For Australia, the product will start arriving in 2016 and includes the already confirmed Q30 small hatch which will also spawn the QX30 crossover, both of which will be based on Daimler’s MFA platform that underpins the Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatch.

While it is currently undergoing a feasibility study to determine its market potential, the 420kW/600Nm 3.8-litre V6-powered Q50 Eau Rouge sports variant should launch in 2016 and act as a performance halo car for the brand.

Mr York also confirmed that the replacement for the Q60 coupe will arrive in late 2016, followed by a four-door GT that will go head-to-head with the likes of the Audi A5 Sportback.

While some reports have suggested it will be based on the Q50, it is believed to be built on an entirely new platform and is likely to sit above the Q50 in the model range.

Meanwhile, production of the Q60 cabriolet is set to wind up in late 2016 or early 2017. It is not yet known whether the company is working on a direct replacement for the drop-top.

Infiniti is also set to reveal its mysterious Q80 Inspiration “four-passenger fastback” concept at the Paris motor show next week, which is set to preview a new flagship model.

Before the major new model releases, the only thing planned for Infiniti in Australia next year is the introduction of the facelifted Q70 sedan range in about June, following its debut at the New York motor show in April this year.

The refreshed model brings minor styling tweaks to bring it more into line with the Q50 as well as a new diesel variant that is powered by the same 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel under the bonnet of the Q50.

Because of the lack of new product until 2016, Mr York is predicting only “moderate” growth for Infiniti in Australia next year, but added that the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol powered Q50, which arrives in showrooms later this week, will add some volume.

“In general you will see uplift volume for 2015 definitely, but it will be a relatively modest level,” he said. “2015 will be a preparation year for 2016, with so many new models coming – 2015 is a platform building year.

“Certainly the Q50 petrol will help accelerate sales, but on the flipside some of the existing products will be one year older and in some cases might be less appealing and sell lower volumes to the market than they have this year, so there might be a bit of arbitrage between those two.” Mr York said the other reason for moderate growth is the small dealer network that covers Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. He added that there are plans to expand to other locations, but where and when this would occur is still under wraps.

What's coming from Infiniti:
Q50 2.0t September 2014
Q70 sedan facelift June 2015
Q30 hatch 2016
QX30 crossover 2016
Q50 Eau Rouge 2016
Q60 Coupe 2016
Next-gen QX70 SUV 2016
Q60 Grand Tourer 2017
Q80 2017
Next-gen Q70 sedan 2017
LE electric vehicle 2018

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