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Infiniti performance to lift under new Nissan boss

Crucial crossover: Infiniti’s upcoming QX50 will be an important model for the fledging luxury brand as it enters the booming premium mid-size crossover market to compete against the likes of the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.

Lester also committed to more Nismo models, while Supercar future uncertain

29 Nov 2017

NISSAN Australia’s new managing director – and former Infiniti Canada boss – Stephen Lester sees Infiniti as a major growth opportunity and has reaffirmed Nissan’s commitment to Nismo, however the brand’s future involvement in the Supercars series is still under a cloud.

To the end of October this year, Infiniti has sold 675 units, and while that is a slight 2.1 per cent improvement over the same period last year, Mr Lester told GoAuto that “there’s no question” that Infiniti is “an area (in need) of improvement”.

“It’s a challenging market, there’s no question, but the team is very, very committed,” he said.

“Even though it’s very competitive, I think it really could have a lot of upside here in Australia, absolutely, no questions.”

Mr Lester said the introduction of new models to bolster the line-up would lift Infiniti’s presence in Australia. The local line-up currently includes the Q30, Q50, Q60 and Q70 passenger cars, as well as the QX30, QX70 and QX80 crossovers and SUVs, while the just revealed QX50 mid-size SUV would likely be added to the roster.

“Getting some different models here that address certain aspects of the TIV (total industry volume) which are not really well exploited at the moment,” he said.

“QX50, 100 per cent, this car will be fantastic for Infiniti. It will really help set a new benchmark for where the Infiniti brand needs to be, but even cars that we’ve already brought in like the QX30, the Q50, Q60 – I mean these cars are fantastic.

“The difference for Infiniti in North America is that it is a brand that has been around for 25 to 30 years, and therefore the teething of being a new or baby brand is over with, and now it is a relatively … well situated or well recognised brand, it doesn’t require a lot of explanation.”

Mr Lester said he would employ the same methodology in overhauling and renewing the luxury marque as applied to Nissan, as well as working closely with dealers and taking feedback on board.

“You have to do much like what we’re doing on the Nissan side right now,” he said. “It would be breaking down the business piece by piece, evaluating and questioning what we’re doing department by department, making sure that there’s a clear list of KPIs (key performance indicators) by department and constantly being renewed and reviewed and then … really with the network, you’ve got to get them onside, you’ve got to go to the dealers, get them engaged, get them involved.

“I’ve said to the dealers … we’re not going to agree on everything, they know that already, but if we agree to come to the table at all times, we’ll actually be able to solve problems that we wouldn’t if we stayed apart.

“So it’s really changing to ensure that the culture is ‘we’, not ‘us and they’, and that is the same thing you have to do on the Infiniti side to make sure we can go forward.

“I think with the quality of product, with the calibre of team we’ve got there, there’s a lot of runway to make that improvement, there’s no question.”

Similarly, Mr Lester said he also sees Nissan’s performance sub-brand Nismo as another potential growth opportunity, but would not elaborate on which model would come next following the launch of the tuned GT-R in February and the fettled 370Z in September.

“Absolutely you are going to see more Nismo models,” he said. “In a market like Australia where you’ve got a very high penetration of sports performance models … there is a great opportunity for us to leverage Nismo, both as a brand with heritage but also as a brand that represents true sport and performance, no question about that.”

While Nismo-tuned versions of the Juke and Patrol have already been deemed unsuitable for the Australian market, Nissan’s next tuned model could come in the form of the all-electric Leaf previewed in concept form at this year’s Tokyo motor show.

The Nissan Leaf Nismo Concept wore a number of enhancements including a sportier bodykit and tweaked suspension, and could make it to production as a flagship variant for the regular all-electric small car due to hit Australian shores late next year.

However, what remains unclear is Nissan Australia’s ongoing mid- to long-term commitment to Supercars, which the brand runs with a V8-powered version of its already-discontinued Altima.

While Mr Lester said the brand will see out its obligations until the end of the 2018 racing season, Nissan’s ongoing involvement will be evaluated in due course.

“We will continue to evaluate like we have been doing for every aspect of our business,” he said.

“That is a simple fact of the responsibility we have to the company and doing the job well and when the time comes, then we will make that decision.”

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