Nissan Downplays Infiniti’s Japan Ties as It Seeks China Sales

Nissan Motor Co.’s head of Infiniti distanced the luxury brand’s ties to its Japanese parent as the unit seeks to gain market share in China, where a territorial dispute triggered a wave of anti-Japan protests last year.

“Infiniti is an Asian brand and doesn’t belong to any nationality,” Johan de Nysschen, president for the marque, told reporters in Beijing yesterday in response to a question about the impact of anti-Japanese sentiment in China. Infiniti is “quite separate and distinct from the parent company. We are an Asian premium brand,” he said.

The luxury is confident of increasing sales this year by at least 10 percent and plans to add 20 dealerships in 2013 to the 60 in operation as of the end of last year, he said.

The comments reflect Japanese automakers’ lingering sensitivity over consumer sentiment in China, four months after demonstrations broke out over a territorial dispute involving a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Infiniti delayed introducing some models and cut back on marketing and promotion in the country after tensions escalated, he said.

The automaker also decided to “ride the storm” and refrained from following German luxury auto brands in cutting prices, which hurt sales, he said.

Inventory Levels

Infiniti had the highest inventory levels among major auto brands in China as of last month, with stockpiles at showrooms reaching 4.42 months worth of sales last month, according to China Automobile Dealers Association.

The brand hasn’t previously released sales figures for China, according to Allen Lyu, its country head.

“We can’t be a global player unless we become a strong player in China,” said de Nysschen, a former Audi executive hired by Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn to revamp Nissan’s upscale brand. “China is our No. 1 strategic priority. We’re approaching this market with long-term perspective.”

Nissan moved Infiniti’s global headquarters to Hong Kong last May and plans to produce vehicles in China in 2014. The marque in December said it would revamp model names this year -- Q for cars, QX for light trucks -- as part of a push to expand in the U.S. and China.

Infiniti is incorporated as a separate legal entity with its own corporate culture and brand philosophy, though it’s a wholly owned unit of Nissan, said de Nysschen.

No decision has been made about selling Infiniti vehicles in Japan, and the automaker is considering Mexico as a possible site for its next manufacturing plant, he said.

— With assistance by Tian Ying

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