The Infiniti brand will be rolled out across Western Europe after its introduction in Russia, scheduled for October next year – and Nissan is determined to do the job properly, writes Chris Wright.

Steve Wilhite, senior vice president, global marketing, is very aware of the challenge. Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus has had a tough battle against Europe’s luxury big guns, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar.

There are also lessons to be learned from Nissan’s own experience in Mexico where Infiniti has struggled – it is sold and serviced by Nissan dealers and Wilhite admits customers are not getting the full luxury experience.

“In Europe, and other countries around the world where we plan to introduce Infiniti, we have to built a tier one luxury brand. We have to invest in a proper dealer infrastructure, with proper training for sales people and technicians.”

Customers, he added, need to feel they are buying into something special.

“Our intent is very clear. We have already introduced Infiniti in South Korea and this will be followed by Russia, then China in July 2007, but these introductions will be very different to what we have done in Mexico, Hong Kong and the Middle East in the past.

“We made our mistakes, perhaps treating  Infiniti as an opportunistic brand in these markets. In future we have to take a more strategic approach.”

Introduction in Europe, Wilhite said, would be dependent on having competent diesel technology. “But our commitment is to take Infiniti global.”

Carlos Tavares, executive vice president, product planning, said he had high hopes for Infiniti in Russia. “You already see many privately imported FX45s and FX35s on the streets in downtown Moscow.

“But there are also many other opportunities for Nissan. We are on track to produce 28 new products between 2005 and 2007 while we will be unveiling a new light commercial vehicle strategy.”

Of those new models, six are in the process of being introduced this year – Serena MPV, OTTI small car, Micra C+C, Wingroad compact, the Bluebird Silphy medium luxury sedan and the Moco mini car.

These will be re-forced by 10 new models and 18 replacement vehicles. “The new models are aimed at new market areas and new customers,” he added.

“With LCVs we are looking to increase volumes by 40 percent and to double our profits so we are talking about significant numbers.”

As Nissan enters the third stage of its revival plan – Value Up, focussed on increasing customer value – Tavares said: “The company is now in good shape, but this is the most dangerous period, we have to guard against complacency.”

Part of the Value Up program will be improving the brand value, according to Wilhite. We are in the top 100 when it comes to brand recognition of the world’s big companies but against our automotive competitors I don’t think we are as high as we deserve to be.”

In fact Nissan is ranked ninth among the auto companies behind Hyundai of South Korea.

“Even if you look at similar sized companies from other industries we are behind people such as Samsung, Sony, Nestle and Hewlett Packard.

“What can we do about this? We have to work on our attitude and become a design and style leader, building cars that quicken the pulse. We are getting there, owner loyalty is at an all-time high while market share is at a 10 year high. We have to be fearless – go big or not go at all.”

Chris Wright – Interchange