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Infiniti Europe 2008: 20 years in the making

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LONDON - In April 2006, Mr Carlos Ghosn, President and Chief Executive Officer, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd, stepped up to a podium in Tokyo and made the announcement that many within the organisation had long been waiting to hear: the Infiniti line up of distinctive performance luxury vehicles would be coming to Western Europe. The opportunity to go head-to-head against the world’s leading luxury marques in one of the most competitive automotive markets would be one of the final stops in a journey that started nearly two decades prior, for a brand destined to be ‘more than a company that makes cars.’

“Infiniti is recognised globally for its blend of design, performance and luxury,” said Mr Ghosn. “We are now ready to bring this unique brand to consumers in Europe.”

Unique Infiniti Models and Organisation

With Infiniti sales in Europe targeted to begin from the fourth quarter of 2008, the initial focus will be on Infiniti’s unique, highly distinctive crossovers – the all-new Infiniti EX37 luxury coupe crossover and the all-new, second-generation Infiniti FX luxury sports crossover, which makes its world debut in March 2008 at the Geneva Auto Show. The Infiniti Europe line up will also include the new award winning, second-generation Infiniti G37 and G37 Coupé. Each Infiniti model will be fine-tuned for European customers’ unique needs, rigid quality standards and demanding European driving conditions.

“Infiniti is not looking for huge market share in Europe,” explained Mr Ghosn recently. “Europe is an opportunity to grow Infiniti and establish a solid base.”

In Europe, Infiniti will operate with total brand separation from Nissan, with Infiniti’s European headquarters located near Geneva in Rolle, Switzerland.

Quality Retail Partners Committed to Customer Satisfaction

To ensure optimal customer support, Infiniti has selected a very limited number of highly qualified distributors across Europe with experience in selling other premium and/or luxury automotive brands, with a priority on metropolitan city centre locations.

As in every new market since inception, Infiniti will be bringing not just vehicles and their technology and performance leadership, but the unique Infiniti sales and service philosophy known as the ‘Total Ownership Experience.’

“The goal in Europe is to make sure that Infiniti is profitable, has long-term sustainability and that customer satisfaction is very high,” said Mr Ghosn.

Great customer service, as embodied in the Total Ownership Experience, is not a marketing initiative or short-term commitment, it is a core part of Infiniti’s DNA. It is the reassurance to customers that they can purchase a new Infiniti in a hassle-free, highly respectful manner – and enjoy the confidence that they will be taken care of throughout the entire period of Infiniti ownership.

The key to achieving this – a formula proven time and again as Infiniti enters new sales markets – is starting with premier automotive retail groups that share Infiniti’s vision of adding customer-relevant, high-value services on top of Infiniti’s exciting, technically advanced performance luxury cars and crossovers.

“In Europe, the Total Ownership Experience goes hand-in-hand with great products and with our high quality, well-capitalised retail centres network,” said Jim Wright, Vice President Infiniti Europe. “We see a huge opportunity to provide customer care unlike anything else offered in Europe today. We will engage customers with experiences tailored around their lives and lifestyles, not just their vehicles themselves.” State-of-the-Art Dealer Facilities

In Western Europe, Infiniti retail facilities will follow a new design concept known as IREDI (Infiniti Retail Environment Design Initiative), which was developed in 2005 for its centre partners around the world.

The core premise of the IREDI concept is to create a welcoming environment for buying and servicing an Infiniti vehicle, enhancing the Infiniti Total Ownership Experience and strengthening customer loyalty. The designated Infiniti centres architecture is energetic and modern, with an accent on natural materials and open lighting.

A key aspect of the IREDI programme is its ‘flexibility within a framework,’ which takes into consideration the widely varying situations faced by Infiniti retailers worldwide regarding differences in geographies, locations and space. For example, some Infiniti European locations may be sales centres only, with service facilities located off-site. All European Infiniti centres will have minimum showroom sizes to house at least six Infiniti vehicles in the sales lounge, with adequate space dedicated to each vehicle to enhance the shopping experience.

“Infiniti Europe centre partners are able to choose from a variety of materials, furnishings and artwork, yet the retail environments will have a consistent brand image and execution and all will provide a very customer-centric setting,” said Jim Wright, Vice President Infiniti Europe. The Infiniti Brand Philosophy

Along with tailoring the Infiniti product line up to European needs and customer standards – and establishing a new Infiniti retail network from the ground up – another challenge facing Infiniti is cementing in buyers’ minds a distinctive Infiniti brand message.

First, rather than trying to be a premium brand for all people, Infiniti makes a more personal statement designed to attract buyers with a similar vision – buyers who thrive on experiences rather than status alone.

Mr Ghosn puts it this way: “Infiniti is not about doing what everyone else is doing. It is not about copying traditional, conservative notions of luxury. We will not try to be all things to all people, but everything to some people.”

At the heart of Infiniti’s ongoing passion and commitment to create vehicles that have significance beyond their physical substance is a concept called Graceful Strength.

“We have taken calculated risks to differentiate our models from the predictable offerings that fill the premium car market, offering cars that thrill and exhilarate in a way that is entirely new to customers,” said Mr Ghosn. “Infiniti are vehicles with character that are a destination in their own right – beautiful, warm designs, sometimes even edgy and aggressive, but always distinctive and true.”

Graceful Strength is multi-dimensional, prescribing a rich, deep, authentic experience in performance, luxury refinement and design. It can be seen in each Infiniti model’s inspired shapes, flowing curves, and in the vehicle’s expression of dignity, subtlety and quiet confidence.

Three Infiniti Brand Pillars

Graceful Strength is supported by three brand pillars: Driving Pleasure, Peace of Mind and Hospitality. Together they provide structure and direction through every design and engineering decision, every customer interaction and every way in which an Infiniti driver engages with the brand.

While all three brand pillars are qualities intrinsic to the complete Infiniti experience, Driving Pleasure – and in particular the cars’ performance – is arguably the most important. With power outputs starting at over 310hp, it is clear that every Infiniti model on sale in Europe has been designed to satisfy the most demanding of drivers.

But this performance is just a part of a dynamic driving experience that embraces outstanding handling with the option of four-wheel drive, superb ride comfort, exceptional refinement, precise steering and powerful brakes. In short, the Infiniti driving experience is one to be savoured.

Peace of Mind can be as simple as the security of a strong safety rating and the reassurance of an advanced air bag system. It embraces the remarkable ‘self-healing’ paint found on all Infiniti models, and the Around View Monitor on the EX 37 and the FX, which removes the worry of parking in a tight space.

Peace of Mind also leads to a feeling of well-being which can be captured in the tactile feel of the controls, the reassuring ‘thunk’ of a closing door and the elegant analogue clock on the dashboard, an Infiniti signature feature.

Hospitality can refer to the subtle ambient lighting which bathes the interior in a soft glow at night and the comfort offered by the quality materials found within the cabin. But it also extends beyond the vehicle itself to the company that designs, builds and sells it and can equally refer to the level of service guaranteed from the dedicated network of Infiniti retailers being established across Europe. Infiniti Design Philosophy

As the soul of the Infiniti brand, the concept of Graceful Strength shapes Infiniti’s plans and is core to how the company approaches its customers, its retailers, its engineering and technology development, and especially its designs.

Under the direction of Shiro Nakamura, Senior Vice President and Design Director, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd, Infiniti vehicles have developed a powerful design aesthetic – often symbolised by simple brush strokes – known as ‘Vibrant Design.’

“We are people who enjoy designing for life, rather than simply creating mechanical objects,” explains Nakamura. “We embrace the continuous advancement of design and share a passion and freedom to create brave new Infiniti vehicles.”

Infiniti design not only reflects Graceful Strength, but also a deep history and a tribute to Japanese tradition. Infiniti designs are timeless, honest and true to their intent – simple, unembellished, unadorned – form rooted in its core purpose. Yet, at the same time, Infiniti design is dramatic and daring in its essence, combining modern, progressive luxury with a strong, ageless Japanese heritage.

Infiniti design consists of five factors: vibrant colours that captivate; rooted in the power of nature; elegant form with motion; an awe inspiring presence; and an optimistic and progressive attitude. These five factors embrace the perspective of four key design values.

The first is ‘Energetic Force,’ which describes the image of the ‘Power of Nature,’ a living force flowing from within, an energetic mass with dynamic surface like a vigorous brush stroke. It can be seen in the dynamic ‘wave’ shape of the G37’s bonnet and its strong rising beltline, flowing C-pillar and muscular rear wheel arches.

The second design value is ‘Spiritual Precision,’ which represents finesse and beauty that is created with attention and care far beyond mechanical precision. This is embodied not just in the millimetre-perfect shut lines, but also in the ‘washi’-style textured aluminium trim in the cockpit that resembles a style of traditional Japanese handmade paper.

Third is ‘Seductive Lustre,’ which implies a sense of mystery and glamour. Seductive Lustre suggests sexiness, but can also have a mellow and glassy quality. In a vehicle, Seductive Lustre is expressed by fluid but tense lines and smooth surfaces, such as the blend of high quality leather surfaces and the timeless stylishness of African Rosewood in the interior.

The last design value is ‘Dignified Air,’ which incorporates a resolute attitude with dignity and sanctity. Each Infiniti, from the G and G Coupé to the FX via the EX, expresses a sense of purpose beneath an undeniably elegant exterior.

These are all key elements that make up the Infiniti brand – Graceful Strength, Peace of Mind, Hospitality, Driving Pleasure and Vibrant Design – and stand Infiniti apart in a changing world of luxury.

Infiniti Background and History – 20 Years of Success

As Infiniti prepares to enter the European market, one of the toughest premium markets, with a fully dedicated dealer network and a range of exclusive products, it is also about to celebrate 20 years of operation in North America.

Infiniti sales officially started on November 8, 1989 when the initial 51 Infiniti dealers in the United States first opened their showroom doors, but the plans for Infiniti took root in 1985 with the creation of a top secret “Horizon Task Force” – a group formed within Nissan with a view toward creating a new performance luxury brand.

With existing U.S. and European luxury brands already well entrenched in the American marketplace at the time, investment costs would be high, along with the risk. Given the opportunity to start with a “blank sheet of paper,” the Horizon Task Force took an expansive view. Rather than just focusing on re-badging current vehicles with higher sticker prices, they looked at luxury vehicles both from a product perspective and the entire purchase and ownership process.

The Horizon Task Force singled out for closer study a handful of leading service companies outside of the automotive field, including Federal Express, Four Seasons Hotels and Nordstrom department stores. The results of the Task Force’s findings had a direct influence on everything from the design of the first Infiniti showrooms, which had the look and feel closer to a luxury hotel than a car dealership, to the brand identity process all the way down to details such as the design of business cards and parts and accessories packaging.

This new customer-centric philosophy – later named the Infiniti Total Ownership Experience – would be applied to service policies as well, and included the then-unheard of amenity of offering free service loan cars.

The name chosen in July 1987 for the new performance luxury brand symbolised the desire to be always looking forward – to new horizons, to infinity. With a fresh spelling and a badge with its two central lines leading off into an infinite point on the horizon, Infiniti – with four “i”s – was born.

From a product perspective, Infiniti launched in the U.S. with two models: the breakthrough Infiniti Q45 performance luxury sedan and the driver-oriented M30 performance luxury coupe. With those two models, Infiniti gave the automotive world notice that its product philosophy was based on originality, performance, quality and an enthusiasm for driving.

Where Infiniti was very much influential in the early years was in the implementation of Total Ownership Experience. In its first decade of operation, Infiniti was an industry leader in customer satisfaction, winning numerous awards, including the highest rank in J.D. Power and Associates’ Customer Service Index (CSI) study three times and consistent top three finishes in the major independent sales and service studies.

Throughout those early years of Infiniti in the U.S. and Canada, the model lineup and dealer body continued to grow at a steady, prescribed pace. The flagship Q45 evolved in design to include a more traditional exterior and interior, without compromising its exceptional performance or engineering. The M30 model was discontinued and the Q was joined, over the next few years, by the Infiniti G20 compact sports sedan, the dramatically styled J30 luxury sedan, I30/I35 performance sedan and the QX4 luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV). By the end of its first decade, Infiniti was consistently selling around 75,000 units a year.

A New Growth Period

With the start of the new millennium came a new period of growth for Infiniti, led by Mr Ghosn’s decision to reinvigorate the brand by concentrating on a new breed of vehicles – rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive only – and each with cutting-edge design. The first of these new models was introduced in March 2002, the dramatic award-winning Infiniti G35 Sedan. The G Sedan was followed by the G35 Coupe in November 2002 and the iconic Infiniti FX crossover SUV in January 2003. Each received exceptional media reviews, with Infiniti being consistently compared to the leading European nameplates for design and performance leadership.

Customer response was also immediate and highly positive, with sales jumping from 73,000 units in calendar year 1999 to 119,000 units in 2003 – making Infiniti the fastest growing luxury brand in the U.S.

In 2003, Infiniti also surpassed the 100,000 annual sales milestone for the first time – an increase of 35 percent versus 2002 sales. In 2004, cumulative Infiniti sales topped one million units. U.S. sales now regularly hold in the 130,000 to 140,000 range.

As the decade rolled on, two additional models were added in North America – the full-size, North America-built Infiniti QX56 luxury SUV in January 2004 and the Infiniti M performance luxury sedan in May 2005. The Infiniti I35, QX4 and Q45 were gradually phased out between 2003 and 2006 at the ends of their product cycles.

Along with G37, G37 Coupé and the second generation FX, the all-new EX coupe crossover, will form part of the four model range that will be launched across Europe starting from autumn 2008.

The EX is the latest addition to the global Infiniti range. Badged EX35 when introduced in the US at the end of 2007, this all-wheel drive crossover slots in below the iconic FX and offers an exceptional combination of seductive design, elegant interior and advanced technology systems such as Around View Monitor, Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) system and Scratch Shield “self-healing” clear coat paint.

Going Global

While the early Infiniti years were concentrated on North American activities, Infiniti began a period of global expansion in 2000 with sales starting in Taiwan, followed by entry into the Middle East in late 2004 – where sales have increased by 60 percent in 2007 alone.

In April 2005, Nissan’s three-year Value-Up programme was announced by Mr Ghosn, with one of four key breakthroughs set as an accelerated global expansion of Infiniti. Phase one saw the entry into South Korea in 2005, followed by Russia in 2006 and Ukraine and China in 2007. Today, Infiniti has more than 230 dealers in 15 countries with worldwide sales of 150,000 annually.

“A dream that started 20 years ago in the United States is now the blueprint for a global luxury automotive brand,” said Mark McNabb, Corporate Vice President in charge of Infiniti Business Unit. “While the automotive landscape has changed over the years, there is one thing that has remained consistent and will never change – our tradition of offering the highest levels of performance, luxury and customer care.”

The Journey Continues

The original Infiniti vision of always looking ahead to the next horizon – symbolised by the Infiniti name and badge – continues to shape the brand today.

“Infiniti is, above all else, both a journey and a destination – a brand where design, performance and customers come together to celebrate the present, and look forward to the products, technologies and experiences still to come,” said Mr McNabb. By the end of 2008, Infiniti’s geographic reach will extend to 93 percent of global luxury markets. In contrast, in 2006 Infiniti was represented in 43 percent of world luxury markets. “The intensity of our design, technology and engineering is mirrored in our deep-rooted desire to provide a truly exceptional ownership experience. We’re looking forward to a long, successful future in the European market.”