Is a Separate Design Studio in Infiniti's Future?


  • Johan de Nysschen Picture

    Johan de Nysschen Picture

    If Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen has his way, the company will get its own design studio. | April 10, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • A separate design studio is on Infiniti's wish list, said Johan de Nysschen, president of Infiniti, in a recent Edmunds interview.
  • Infiniti's ambitious comeback plan could take years, de Nysschen said.
  • Infiniti is attempting to establish itself as a true competitor to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

NEW YORK — A separate design studio is on Infiniti's wish list, said Johan de Nysschen, president of Infiniti, in a recent Edmunds interview.

De Nysschen, the former head of Audi of America, was hired by Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn last June. Infiniti was turned into a separate subsidiary in December and relocated to Hong Kong. In the meantime, Infiniti and Nissan products are developed in the same design studio. Separating the two could help to further differentiate the brands.

The Infiniti executive offered an inside look at Infiniti's do-over, admitting that the company's ambitious comeback plan could take years. Infiniti is attempting to establish itself as a true competitor to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. De Nysschen said it will take years to establish Infiniti as a premium global brand because new models take several years to develop.

"I can assure you that I have never worked harder or longer in terms of physical hours in my life, but I am really enjoying it," he said.

An organizational culture is being created at Infiniti that is focused on the premium business.

"You got to walk the talk," de Nysschen said. "I say to the team, 'You got to live, sleep, eat, dream, just be premium in all that we do because we have to experience the world in the way our customers do."

He said he is busy assembling "a hand-picked team of world-class professionals."

As part of its reinvention, Infiniti is attempting to unify the brand's image globally.

"One of the realities is that Infiniti is somehow positioned differently in each of the three main major regions around the world," de Nysschen said. "We need to get that in a more consistent basis."

"Our vision is to establish Infiniti as the fourth member of the so-called club of global premium automotive brands," he said. "The three Germans, I really think, they really are kind of the epicenter of the global premium market."

Infiniti's role at Nissan has been cloudy at best. While the brand debuted in 1989 with the large, sporty, rear-drive Q45 sedan, and executives at the time promised a wide range of models targeted at the German brands, over the decades Infiniti received a small, limited product line. Instead, the automaker concentrated on the Nissan brand and the automaker's financial problems. After the Q45 was dropped, Acura, Buick and Volvo appeared more likely competitors. Renault took control of Nissan in 1999, but again the major focus was on the Nissan brand. Infiniti was not given a wider product portfolio until recent years.

From a sales standpoint, Infiniti views the U.S. market as a success, de Nysschen said. Last year, nearly 120,000 vehicles were sold here. The line consists of the Q50 (previously called G) and Q70 (previously called M) sedans, EX, FX and JX crossovers and the QX56 SUV. But de Nysschen said there are more opportunities in the U.S. and other global markets.

"Premium brands account for, depending on how you want to define premium, broadly speaking, somewhere between 10 and 12 percent of the global automotive sales," he said. "Yet they account for almost 50 percent of global industry profits. When done well, premium brands are very lucrative."

The automaker is shaking up Infiniti in terms of product, personnel and attitude. The model line will be significantly expanded. The first of three compact cars co-developed with Mercedes-Benz will arrive in 2015. Competitors to the Audi Q5 and Lexus RX are likely. The FX will be redesigned in three or four years.

A high-performance luxury sedan and coupe, positioned above the Q70 are on the long-term wish list, six or seven years out, as is a sports car to possibly compete with the Audi R8 and Lexus LFA.

Edmunds says: A separate Infiniti design studio would be a symbolic and practical step forward.

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