Special Coverage

Geneva
Auto Show

GENEVA – The launch of its luxury Infiniti brand in Western Europe in 2008 helped Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. stay close to its 2007 sales, even in a down market.

The luxury market likely will decline at the same rate as the general global auto market, says Eric Sipe, Infiniti’s general manager-global marketing and sales, but he expects Infiniti to gain share as it continues its international expansion.

At the auto show here, Infiniti shows its G37 Cabrio, plus the Essence concept car, to celebrate the brand’s 20th anniversary.

Infiniti sold 147,000 vehicles in 2008, down from prior-year’s 151,000. However, its market share was higher. Sales particularly were strong in Russia and the Middle East, with the FX cross/utility vehicle leading the charge. This year, Infiniti’s best European market, Russia, is in a tailspin because of the declining value of the ruble and the global economic crisis.

Infiniti has the same image in all its markets, as well as a new tagline, “inspired performance,” and Sipe is looking for ways to communicate this in the world markets. Infiniti is committed to maintaining its profit margins, he says. “Wherever we can be global, we will do that in 2009.”

The Essence concept car is one example, as it was developed with Louis Vuitton, the luxury luggage maker. In other areas, Sipe is trying to associate Infiniti with brands and public relations events where there is a synergy with customer interest.

Infiniti also will put more emphasis on the Internet, he says. It will establish one global portal this spring that will let users choose their language and country of interest but deliver a global message by guiding users to regional websites run by the brand’s sales units.

The “media landscape is changing,” Sipe says, especially for the technically oriented, rich young customers to whom the Infiniti brand is reaching out. Toward this effort, he is talking with movie producers about placing Infiniti vehicles in global movies.

The emphasis on a global approach does not displace local initiatives. At Paris airports, first-class passengers on Air France are chauffered in Infinitis. In Dubai, where first-class and business passengers travel a long corridor to their lounges, Infiniti has the exclusive contract for advertisements on the walls.

Infiniti has been in the U.S. 18 of its 20 years, so it has a steep climb ahead to become a worldwide brand. Despite the economic crisis, Sipe believes Infiniti will reach a global-awareness position on the level of its competitors by 2015.

“This is a long-term study,” Sipe says, “but we see great examples from Audi (AG) and others. It has been a product-driven success so far.”

Infiniti’s G37 Cabrio is an example of its ambition, featuring a navigation system powered by a 30-gigabyte hard disk developed jointly with Xanavi Informatics Corp., Nissan’s navigation-system partner.

The large memory means the system can hold map information for not only Western Europe, but also Turkey, East Europe and Russia. Tourist information from the Michelin Guide is included, as are details on restaurants and museums in London, Rome and Vienna and some 20 other European cities.

The system is said to react faster and provide images on a tactile 7- or 8-in. (17-20 cm) screen that are four times sharper than previous Infiniti navigation screens. The result is said to be more realistic representation of the road ahead.

In addition, the hard disk has a 10-GB music section that can store up to 3,000 CDs worth of music.