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Nissan looks for some premium prospects

Infiniti Europe is looking for a single dealer group to take on Nissan’s premium brand when it reaches the UK in 2008.

The Japanese manufacturer will not be pairing the Infiniti franchise with its own UK dealer network, opting for approximately 10 stand-alone centres in the UK’s largest metropolitan areas. Infiniti Europe will be a totally separate organisation from Nissan.

Infiniti hopes the move will very quickly establish the brand in its own right as a glossy status symbol, while simultaneously moving public opinion away from Nissan’s volume manufacturer identity.

Infiniti says it has signed ‘letters of intent’ with partners across Europe and is in talks with UK partners, but could not say which ones. It is on the lookout for a group that places its main focus on ‘excellent customer service’.

Potential Infiniti partners must offer what it calls the “total ownership experience”. It wants to offer its customers a commitment to hassle-free ownership with its “passionate cars and passionate service”.

UK centres must adhere to Infiniti guidelines regarding the look and feel of each dealership.

Infiniti said it could not disclose the amount of investment it was looking for from dealers to join the franchise, but said it would be “in line with the top prestige manufacturers”.

Wayne Bruce, Infiniti Europe’s communications director, said: “The main focus for Infiniti in the short term is to get the brand established in the UK. We won’t be chasing sales volumes from Audi. They’ve got nothing to worry about in Milton Keynes.”

Industry insiders say Infiniti faces a struggle. Dealers will be expected to take on a multi-million pound franchise with no immediate used car prospects or service work. One observer said: “It will be hard to recruit dealers. Look how long it’s taken Lexus, with the help of Toyota. It’s been 19 years and they are still not fully there yet. And Cadillac has not even got going.”

He questioned why dealers would invest multi-million pound sums in showrooms and staff training for a low-volume franchise.

In 2004, General Motors left its UK launch of Cadillac exclusively to Pendragon, which planned to open 18 sales points within three years. However, the network peaked at 12 outlets, two of which were short-lived because of poor sales, totalling 400 units last year.

Some analysts blamed the performance on delayed development of right-hand drive models, insufficient marketing and inflated pricing. GM UK is expected to take back control of Cadillac before the end of the year.

But Infiniti seems upbeat. Bruce said: “We’re already registering high demand from customers in London and we’ve had a very positive reaction for our models at the motor shows. It’s time someone challenged the German brands dominating the premium sector and we think we’re the manufacturer to do it.”

Up for the challenge

The UK’s Infiniti range will include two saloons and two SUVs. The car that will champion Infiniti’s launch into the UK will be the G35. It is slightly bigger than a 3-Series and will be priced at approximately £26,000.

Infiniti will also offer an Audi A5 competitor with its G37 Coupe and a BMW X5 rival with the replacement of its FX SUV. Its new EX model will also be on sale here in a bid to tempt BMW X3 customers.

All models will be fitted with V6 and V8 petrol engines. A V6 diesel will reach UK variants in 2010.

G37 Coupe (Audi A5, BMW 3-series Coupe rival) G35 sedan (Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3-series, Audi A4 rival) FX (BMW X5 rival)
EX concept (BMW X3 rival) A recently completed US Infiniti dealer

Infiniti set for Europe move

Launched in the US and Canada in 1989, Infiniti is currently sold across North America, Taiwan, the Middle East, Korea and Russia. It will be launched in China and the Ukraine this year.

By 2010, Infiniti hopes to have model coverage in 20 European countries.

Much as Lexus has done for Toyota, Infiniti has built a reputation for top-ranking customer service, in the US specifically. Since Nissan renewed its focus on Infiniti in 1999, car sales in the US grew from 28,130 new cars to 32,141 vehicles in the first four months of 2007, an increase of 9.6%.

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