April 19, 2018 / 3:33 AM / 3 months ago

Nissan premium brand Infiniti aims to triple China sales: president

(This story corrects headline to show title is “president” (not CEO).)

Roland Kruger, President of Nissan's Infiniti Motor Company, speaks next to an Infiniti Q Inspiration concept car at a flagship showroom in Beijing, China April 18, 2018. Picture taken April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Norihiko Shirouzu

BEIJING (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co’s premium brand Infiniti plans to at least triple sales in China within the next five years by making four additional car models locally and shifting to more of an electrified offering - a fast-emerging market in China.

That means Infiniti will aim to boost sales in the world’s biggest auto market to roughly 150,000 vehicles a year, up from 48,000 last year, the brand’s global chief Roland Krueger said in an interview in Beijing.

China’s premium car market, which Krueger said generated about 2.5 million vehicle sales last year, is growing fast but accounts for less than 10 percent of the country’s overall auto market.

Roland Kruger, President of Nissan's Infiniti Motor Company, speaks next to an Infiniti Q Inspiration concept car during an interview at a flagship showroom in Beijing, China April 18, 2018. Picture taken April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Premium cars account for about 12 percent of the U.S. overall market, and 30 percent in Germany, Krueger said.

Combine that with a “dynamic and fast” development of the so-called new-energy vehicle, or green-car market, in China and “there is a huge growth potential in China for us,” he said.

Krueger said that from 2021 every Infiniti model launched will be either an all-electric car or so-called “e-Power” hybrids, underlining Nissan’s previously announced plan to make Infiniti primarily an electrified offering.

More than half of Infiniti’s global sales will be electric vehicles by 2025, he said.

Sales of new-energy passenger vehicles, excluding electric commercial vehicles in China, totaled 460,000 to 470,000 vehicles last year, according to Infiniti.

“Growth is phenomenal, and we might see a million electric cars sold this year. Almost doubling sales,” Krueger said.

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Within the next five years, Infiniti will be producing six models locally in China.

In addition to the QX50 sport-utility vehicle, Infiniti has been producing the Q50-L, a long-wheelbase version of the Q50, in China since 2014. At the Beijing auto show starting next week, Infiniti is expected to display a concept car called the Q Inspiration. Krueger said the brand plans to produce a car based on this concept car, an e-Power hybrid, over the next five years.

Combining localization and electrification, “we want to triple our volume within the next five years at a minimum,” Krueger said.

The shift to more electric vehicles is necessary in part to help Nissan and Infiniti meet China’s stringent fuel-economy requirements and production quotas for heavily electrified cars.

But more importantly, it also marks an effort to elevate the brand’s image in the way Tesla has done, producing a highly-desired premium brand with a lineup of sleek electric cars.

In China, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have dominated the country’s premium auto market for much of the last two decades. But as Chinese consumers’ appetite for upscale cars grows, the market has seen a sizable uptick in competition with automakers - from Cadillac to Lexus to Acura to Lincoln and Tesla - investing in their brands to grab a bigger piece of the action.

“Customer preferences are changing fast. We have data showing that from 2011 to 2016, interest in the EV among Chinese customers has tripled,” Krueger said.

“This is a huge opportunity for us as a challenger brand.” 

Reporting By Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Neil Fullick

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