Choosing to launch a new luxury brand in a car showroom might be seen as taking cost-cutting a step too far. But when that brand is Infiniti and the showroom is an Infiniti Centre, and you want the journalists to get a feel for the Infiniti experience, it makes sense.
Strip away the PR hype and the centre remains more like an upmarket boutique hotel or luxury goods retailer than any car dealership.
The UK's first Infiniti Centre officially opens on 15 October, but has already sold nine cars. It's on the outskirts of Reading, close to the M4 and surrounded by Audi, Lexus, Jaguar and Aston Martin outlets.
Since sales in Europe started just over 12 months ago, more than 2,000 people have bought an Infiniti. Best-seller is the top-of-the-range £54,000 FX 50S with its 5.0-litre V8 engine.
Progress so far follows boss Carlos Ghosn's mantra of quality not quantity.
"We can judge the quality by the trade-ins," said Global Communications Director Wayne Bruce.
The biggest number of trade-ins are Porsche Cayennes; also high on that list are BMW X5s.
The Reading centre is the 25th opened by the brand in Western Europe and the first of eight planned for the UK by 2011. Two more, in Birmingham and Glasgow, are scheduled to open in 2010 and a further five in 2011.
"We're looking at another five in 2012 to give us a total of 13 but we're in no rush," said Bruce. "We either do it properly or not at all."
The 15 staff at the Reading centre have all come from other premium brands. They and the customers appear to appreciate the relaxed, boutique-hotel atmosphere of the centre. The front doors open automatically and visitors are greeted by a hotel-style reception desk.
"There's no time or volume pressure on them; at this end of the luxury market people appreciate exclusivity," said Bruce. With four of the first buyers women, they also appreciate the one-to-one private banking style 'account manager'.
The cars they will buy and drive in the UK may look the same, but there are considerable differences, as Peter Brown, Infiniti Vehicle Evaluation Manager, explained.
The cars are tauter with revisions to the suspension and steering following evaluation in the UK and Germany. "The shift points on the automatic gearboxes are also different with downshifting to gain engine braking added, something that neither the U.S. nor the Japanese spec cars have," he said. European models are also the first with Infiniti's new seven-speed auto gearbox.
The changes are designed to make drivers feel more involved, a pre-requisite for European motorists, added Brown. The switchgear has also been changed with symbols instead of the US-style words used. Refinements include the use of thicker carpets.
Work on developing Infinitis for Europe began four years ago at Nissan's UK technical centre in conjunction with the Spanish branch, in charge of ride and handling, while the Brussels office took responsibility for recalibrating the automatic gearboxes.
Brown and his team are currently working on the forthcoming M saloon and the diesel-engined models. "They're under development in Japan at the moment and we will have confirmation drives of them here and in Germany early in 2010," he said.