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Infiniti steers toward global expansion Add to ...

I think it’s fair to say that Infiniti Global Ltd. is an almost perfect example of the global car industry. Now here’s the question: Will going truly global give Infiniti a sales boost, one gravely needed?

First the global part: Infiniti, Japan-based Nissan Motor’s long-underperforming premium brand, recently moved its headquarters to Hong Kong after naming Johan de Nysschen as its new president. De Nysschen, a tall, soft-spoken South African car executive, used to run Audi’s business in the United States. So the Infiniti story touches Japan, China/Hong Kong, Germany, South Africa and, course, North America.

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Now de Nysschen’s job is to steer Infiniti’s worldwide expansion. Look for new models like the Q50 sedan (the G-sedan replacement) we saw at the Detroit auto show. You’ll know it’s a new Infiniti, he says, if it has a racy design, advanced technologies and nearly infinite power train choices. The plan is to make Infiniti a real presence in Canada, the United States, China, Japan and Europe. To do so, well, Infiniti’s sales need to climb out of the doldrums.

In Canada, Infiniti sells fewer than half the cars Audi does in a year, even though the two were neck-and-neck just a few years ago. Last year, Infiniti Canada moved just under 8,000 vehicles, while Audi Canada hit the 20,000 mark. Audi executives say they are aiming for 30,000-plus in Canada by 2018, if not sooner. In the United States, Infiniti's 2012 sales came to 119,877 units. Add up all of Infiniti’s sales around the globe and you get sales equal to about one-tenth that of Audi, which last year sold about 1.5 million vehicles worldwide, including some 400,000 in China, where Infiniti is essentially a non-entity.

In an interview with me in Detroit, and then later while speaking to the Automotive News World Congress, de Nysschen said that Infiniti expects to launch at least four new models over the next four years. At the same time, the entire lineup of existing models will be updated and given new names – “Q-something” for sedan and “QX-something” for SUVs and crossovers.

The Infiniti 2014 Q50 sports sedan, de Nysschen told Automotive News, is the "first salvo," he added. He said there will be new crossovers, sedans and "some seductive" performance cars added to Infiniti’s lineup.

The new Infiniti boss is not willing to be pinned to a timetable, but he did say that he wants Infiniti’s dealer footprint to grow worldwide and he expects sales to jump “significantly” by 2020. Don’t look for more dealers in Canada, however.

But do look for a diesel offering from Infiniti within two years, along with small turbocharged engines along the lines of what we’re seeing in the latest Mercedes-Benz B-Class wagon. I mention the B-Class because Infiniti’s parent, Nissan Motor, has an engine-sharing deal with Daimler AG – Mercedes’ parent. Automotive News reports that Infiniti will buy diesel engines from Daimler. The premium compact model based on the Etherea Concept will use architecture from Daimler.

“I will not rest until Infiniti is universally entrenched as a global Tier 1 auto maker,” de Nysschen told the industry publication, a sentiment echoed in my own interviews with him.

And if you’re keeping score, add Daimler/Mercedes to the case for Infiniti as a global car brand.

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