Andy Palmer is a busy man, and one with a job few in the industry would relish tackling – making Infiniti’s European dreams a sales success. We tracked him down for a quick chat after the Geneva show to talk Formula 1, European production and BMW…
Is Infiniti happy to continue following its sector-busting route to generate new sales?
‘Infiniti’s ethos is bravery. Our cars are as good as our key German rivals to go head to head, but our intention is to be wilfully different and purposefully leftfield. Anyone can follow and imitate. Our cars are strong on passionate performance and our brand is equally strong on customer service and hospitality.’
What is the biggest challenge Infiniti faces in Europe?
‘Our biggest challenge in Europe is perception and coverage – hence the tie-in with the Red Bull F1 team. Infiniti is big in America. We need to achieve that same level or recognition here in Europe.’
What defines Infiniti against its key German rivals?
‘Hospitality comes first at Infiniti. Looking after our customers is of primary importance. And it’s in the cars, too where you can see the Japanese tradition of warmth and hospitality in the craftsmanship. There’s room in the luxury segment for another level. We don’t see Mercedes as a key rival. When Infiniti is cross-shopped with Mercedes and BMW and Audi, Mercedes has the lowest levels of cross-shopping. Which is why we are working together with Daimler on projects like the Twingo and Smart technology share. Daimler has a 3% share in the Renault-Nissan alliance. We aspire to BMW in terms of engineering and performance, and to Lexus in terms of luxury and refinement. But we’ll never just follow the route of our competitors. That’s what I mean by being brave.’
If Infiniti is serious about Europe, would it consider producing its cars here?
‘I wouldn’t discount a European plant. All Infinitis are built at Tochigi at the moment, but we need to go beyond Tochigi because it has its capacity limits, and because of the Yen-Euro-Sterling exchange rate. If we initiated production in Europe, quality would have to come above everything else. Everything would have to be certified by Tochigi. But it’s more than feasible. It would be based on an existing Alliance plant, rather than a new plant.’
Is Infiniti profitable?
‘Do we cover our costs directly? Yes. But today Infiniti is seen as an investment. The return will come later. We have to build sound foundations first. We have set out very ambitious sales targets for the next few years, a multiple of where we are now. Those figures will be made public within the next few months. Each model range has to sell at least 100,000 units or so, or it won’t stack up. To do that we need to put the brand where it needs to be. It will be tough, but I am extremely ambitious about Infiniti. Its time is now.’