Infiniti has finally arrived in the UK with plans to shake up the premium segment by providing VIP standards of customer service.
AM first revealed in 2004 that Nissan’s premium sister brand would be coming to the UK by the end of the decade.
Having launched in Spain, France and Italy last year, Infiniti’s first UK centre opened at Reading last month.
It will be operated by Rymco UK, a newly created dealer group. Mana Premiere Holdings UK, another new start-up, will be Infiniti’s second retail partner.
Both Rymco and Mana have been created by automotive retail businesses in Lebanon and Qatar respectively. Their creation followed an unsuccessful search by Infiniti for existing UK-based dealers.
Rymco’s and Mana’s parent companies, Rasamny Younis Motor Company SAL and Al Mana International Holdings, are both long-serving champions of Nissan and Infiniti.
Angus Gray, Infiniti regional director, North Europe, said: “The UK is the biggest market for us in Europe. The way they both sell Infiniti shows they completely understand the brand.”
Infiniti is keen to distinguish itself from Nissan. While it is very proud of Nissan, said Gray, everything front of house is Infiniti.
“It’s a new brand, and we don’t want to blur the lines of the brand values by the alliance being too close.”
Behind the scenes, the brand will use Nissan systems and infrastructure for parts logistics, back-of-house and vehicle delivery.
Infiniti has supported the UK dealer launch financially, but Gray declined to say by how much.
“This is our cost to get the brand positioned how we want it positioned. We’ve got one chance to do this and
this is a cost we’re happy to be involved with.
“How Reading is perceived and future sites affects how Infiniti is perceived forever. We want to have the right partner, facilities and location.”
Thirteen showrooms in the UK
Thirteen UK sites are planned by 2013. Rymco will run three of the bigger sites – Reading and two in or around London.
Mana will open 10 locations, including Glasgow, Southport, Birmingham, Leeds and south London.
Openings have been delayed due to difficulties in finding suitable properties on arterial routes.
But Gray expects major sites to be open by the end of 2011, with a few smaller ones opening the following year.
Dealerships ideally will be in proximity of the brand’s competitors – Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche and BMW.
Rymco and Mana are expected to break even within two years, according to Gray.
UK annual registrations should hit about 8,000 units by 2013 with the biggest sellers expected to be G37 convertible, G37 Coupé and FX50 crossover.
Fleet sales will make up more than a third of all cars sold.
In the build-up to the UK launch, Infiniti has talked largely about the importance of excellent customer service.
This includes assigning a customer account manager as the single point of contact for each customer, whatever their concern or requirement.
It also wants centres to be simple to find and easy to park at.
Gray said: “It is the simple things we believe will make a big difference.”
Its showroom concept follows a lobby, lounge and gallery format, with the aim to make the customer’s reception more like a boutique hotel than a traditional dealership.
Artwork and background music have been specially commissioned for all centres.
The Infiniti VIP Service offers customers collection and delivery for annual maintenance up to 150 miles from an Infiniti centre.
There is also roadside assistance where an equivalent courtesy car will be on hand.
“The brief to the handling agent is that we need to make sure the process is as easy as possible. Whether this is a replacement car, or a flight or a hotel, the issue will be resolved,” said Gray.
Even if an Infiniti owner is in another car, the brand will provide roadside assistance, taking the car to the nearest Infiniti centre.
“We’re just trying to make the experience like it should be,” added Gray.
Customer satisfaction will be measured by survey, but this has not yet been introduced. The first European site in Paris, which opened last year, is just starting to receive CSI feedback.
Gray said: “We’re trying to make cars and provide a service that is very bespoke. We’re not a copy of anybody.
"We’re a performance brand that has got soul both from the point of view of cars and aftersales. We’re not a faceless organisation and that is reflected in the showroom and cars’ design.
Atkinson looks to make a 'difference' for dealer group
Rymco UK managing director Paul Atkinson said “to start a brand from scratch was an absolutely unique opportunity”.
Atkinson has been in the motor retail industry for over 25 years at Jardine Motors Group and Inchcape, mostly working with luxury brands.
Most recently, he worked as a consultant to Marshall Group, before which he was divisional director for BMW and Porsche at Jardine.
Atkinson said: “I can make a difference in making sure I make the brand successful and deliver a unique customer experience.
“With the background I have with prestige brands, there’s a lot of learning and best practice that I can apply to Infiniti and Rymco.”
Atkinson is unwilling to talk about investment, predicted turnover and sales targets or when Rymco expects to break even.
He said the quality of the Reading site makes investment similar to other prestige developments.
In terms of targets and profit, Atkinson said it is more about long- term gain.
“It’s important for the longevity of the brand we do it properly and in an orderly manner. As long as we’re going in the right direction, we are comfortable.”
He added Rymco is more focused on people coming through the doors than sales output.
“With a brand new business, you don’t inherit or acquire people that understand the brand.”
There are currently 15 people working at the Infiniti showroom. The site will also be the company’s UK head office when the two other sites open, housing accounts, administration and database work.
Atkinson said optimum staffing would between 25-35 employees per site in five years time.
Alongside national marketing, Rymco is to target local markets, including lifestyle magazines aimed at communities familiar with Infiniti elsewhere in the world, for example expats from Russia and the Middle East.
“There will be a combination of digital media, appropriate lifestyle print media and experiential media - taking products out to events in front of people,” added Atkinson.