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Infiniti's Andy Palmer talks world domination

Wed, 16 Oct 2013

Along with the news of a new Infiniti global flagship sedan, we sat down with Nissan/Infiniti vice president Andy Palmer to discuss the brand's new goals and the challenges it'll face achieving them in a competitive global market.

Why is Nissan becoming so ambitious with Infiniti?

In today's industry, 12 percent of the volume and 50 percent of the profits comes from the premium group -- defined by 13 nameplates. And 80-90 percent of that comes from three of them. Nissan is excluded from this category, so we must get in there.

Infiniti has been around since the late '80s. What mistakes have you made?

Historically, Infiniti has been "Nissan-plus" and we screwed up the Infiniti brand in the U.S. by doing cars like the G20 [a rebadged mid-'90s Primera] and basically trying to squeeze money out of higher-margin cars. That's not the behavior of a premium brand.

Also the list of failed luxury-wannabes is a long one. Can Infiniti succeed, as Audi has?

We are different because we are separating Inifiniti from Nissan and giving it the room to thrive. Carlos Ghosn has a saying: "If you plant two trees next to each other, one will die. They need space to live." That's why we've moved Infiniti HQ to Hong Kong. And at executive committee level, they are only joined at my level.

What about the product plan and the future models?

They have to be highly competitive on the key measurements. We know we can't take a Qashqai platform and put an Infiniti badge on it. Premium cars have intrinsically better platforms that are torsionally stiffer, have better ride and handling, better refinement. And we have created a team of people that understands that fundamentally, the way, BMW Audi Merc do business is different.

What about today's model range?

We embarked on this new journey two years ago, and the first car since then, the Q50, is truly of a breed to compete with the best premium saloons. And the JX is just about there for SUVs.

The biggest challenge, though, is to maintain investment over a decade or so. Can you do this?

We think yes. Nissan the brand is doing very well. Growing like topsy and making good money with increasing good cars. Allowing the Infiniti management team seven years to grow to a 10 percent share is different behavior to one we'd apply to Nissan. It's a recognition that it's a longtime investment and we will need deep pockets.

By Julian Rendell