Nissan’s Infiniti Begins Luxury Push With Q50 Sedan

Nissan Motor Co. (7201)’s Infiniti, lagging larger German, Japanese and U.S. luxury brands, is replacing the G sedan with the Q50 sports car as the company links growth goals for its rechristened lineup to better looks and technology.

The 2014 Q50 will be available as a 3.7-liter V-6 engine car and as a hybrid-electric, 3.5-liter engine model, Infiniti said today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Along with a more “sculpted” exterior the car has automatic systems to aid steering for better handling and also prevent lane swerving, Infiniti said.

Nissan’s Hong Kong-based luxury brand last month said it would revamp model names this year -- Q for cars, QX for light trucks -- as part of a growth push in the U.S. and China. In U.S. luxury-vehicle sales, Infiniti ranks seventh, trailing Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)’s BMW, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s Lexus, Honda Motor Co. (7267)’s Acura, General Motors Co. (GM)’s Cadillac and Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s Audi last year.

“Infiniti has been around since 1989, and it’s been a largely U.S.-centric brand,” Johan de Nysschen, Infiniti’s president, told reporters in Detroit late yesterday. “On the one hand this gives us wonderful opportunity, and on the other it also holds us back. If we want to be a major player in the global stakes, we have to be more successful in other global markets.”

Infiniti sales grew 22 percent to 119,877 last year, less than half the U.S. volume reported by BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. Model renaming is to be completed in the 2014 model year.

Audi Hire

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of Yokohama, Japan- based Nissan, hired long-time Audi executive de Nysschen last year to revamp Infiniti and boost global sales of the brand to 500,000 vehicles annually. Worldwide sales were less than 200,000 in 2012, de Nysschen said.

Q50 and other new models will lift U.S. deliveries further in 2013, Ben Poore, head of U.S. Infiniti sales said late yesterday, without elaborating.

Nissan moved Infiniti’s global operations to Hong Kong in May and plans to produce Infiniti vehicles in China in 2014. Annual sales in China, the biggest growth market for Infiniti, should reach 200,000 units by the end of the decade, de Nysschen said.

Last month, Infiniti became a separate corporate unit with Nissan, he said. To boost the appeal of its products in China and Europe, Infiniti will also be adding more high-output, small engines for its vehicles, hybrid systems and other powertrains, he said, without elaborating.

Executive’s Vision

“My vision for Infiniti is to establish the company as a fully accredited member of the club of premium auto brands in the world,” de Nysschen said. “I don’t know whether that takes 10 years, 15 years or 20 years.”

Nissan’s emphasis on increasing Infiniti sales relates to the higher profit margins luxury cars generate.

“The premium brands account for about 12 percent of global sales worldwide, but almost 50 percent of industry profits,” de Nysschen said.

The brand planned to use a performance by Cirque du Soleil acrobats to debut the sculpted Q50 today in Detroit. U.S. sales begin in mid-2013, the company said, without giving prices.

The current G sedan and coupe models are the brand’s top sellers in the U.S., with a combined 59,844 sales last year, almost half of Infiniti’s U.S. 2012 deliveries.

Other name changes including the current G Coupe becoming the Q60 and the M sedan rechristened the Q70, Infiniti said last month. Among the brand’s crossovers, the JX becomes the QX60; the EX will be the QX50; the FX is to be the QX70; and the full- sized QX sport-utility vehicle will be the QX80.

U.S. headquarters for Nissan and Infiniti are in Franklin, Tennessee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Detroit at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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