The Nissan-owned luxury brand, which was made an independent division of the Japanese company late last year, is planning to push a range of new models into production over the next six years – and Infiniti Americas vice president Michael Bartsch told CarAdvice at the 2014 New York auto show in frank terms that the company needs to prove it’s worthy of consideration.
“I think we have to be honest – we’ve basically been tier two,” Bartsch said. “The next step is to move up to tier one. Tier one means being at the same table as Mercedes, BMW and Audi. We think there’s plenty of room for a brand in this environment to represent a different level of emotion, a different design language, a different style to the very Teutonic German brands which dominate that segment at the moment.
“The timing is perfect because the market is very open, very fractured. Gen X and Y and Millennials are now setting the tonality. Luxury used to be defined by the Baby Boomers,” Bartsch said.
“And why timing is so good for Infiniti is because particularly with the Y and the millennium generation is that they’re open-minded. They’re their own brains, and they make their own decisions. You don’t sell to them, they buy from you,” he said. “They’re very open-minded and they’ll set their own definition of what luxury is. They’re idiosyncratic, they’re independent. So if you have the right design, the right quality, authenticity and you develop the right level of advocates, then you’re well poised to get into that segment.
Part of the push to gather more buyers will be a strong product strategy including the vital new Q30 small hatch, which will also be offered as a small crossover badged QX30.
“The Q30 is a world car. It will be an important part of our mix. It will come out end of 2015 or early 2016, and that will represent a fairly important incremental step for us in volume,” Bartsch said of the new model, which will be engineered by competitor company Mercedes and will be based on the same underpinnings as the A-Class.
“That [Q30 and QX30] will push us into the luxury B/C small crossover area, and that is the fastest-growing luxury area in the market [in the US] at the moment,” he said.
The rest of the range will also see some attention, with updated styling to make its way across the line-up – indeed, the brand debuted the new-look Q70 sedan (previously known as M) at the New York show.
“The next three years for us is to start transitioning the Infiniti design language that is reflected in the Q50 through all of our products. That is going to be the big challenge,” Bartsch said.
“The next really big step for us comes in 2015 with the Q30. At the moment we’re eight products, and by 2020 we expect to be 11 or 12 products.
“After 2016, we start moving in to the upper end, and we start moving into the aspirational, halo type categories. For example, we’ll move into the segments which are dominated by the Mercedes S-Class and the BMW 7 Series and so on,” he said.
“Then ultimately we will anchor the brand in some really good halo cars – you’ve seen [what we’re intending] with the Emerg-e, that sort of concept. That is basically the plan.”
Bartsch, who is an Aussie and understands the market due to having worked locally for General Motors and Porsche, said Infiniti’s slow start in Australia is due to the market, not the brand.
“That’s symptomatic of the Australian market. The Australian market is the most competitive market in the world. It is so oversupplied – there are more brands in Australia than anywhere else in the world,” he said.
“What is it, 1.1 million? 1.2 million sales? It’s been that since I was a baby. When I was at General Motors in the 1980s the passenger car market was 800,000.
“Too many brands, too fractured. It’s got nothing to do with whether the products suit the Australian market – of course they suit the Australian market. They suit the US, so they suit Australia. The Australian and American markets are so similar – the demographics, the thinking – that’s why I’m surviving here,” he said.
“It’s simply a case of [it being] so competitive, there’s so much clutter,” he said.
When asked whether Infiniti was simply part of the clutter and if the brand should have held off on launching in such a crowded market, Bartsch defended the decision.
“I don’t think it’s the wrong time - at some point you have to start. You have to make investment and you have to start,” he said.
“In some ways you might argue it's a very good time. If Ford and Toyota and General Motors are pulling out [of manufacturing their market-specific models], it might be a good time to say ‘you know what, we’re rooting for Australia – we’re coming in’.
“Infiniti needs to be a global brand. It wants to be a global brand. You’ve got to be in China, you’ve got to be in Europe. Australia is part of the international community – it’s very cosmopolitan, it’s very open-minded, it’s very mobile. I think it’s the right thing,” Bartsch said.