By on January 17, 2013


Johan de Nysschen, at home in Hong Kong

New Infiniti-boss and former Audi U.S. chief Johan de Nysschen wants to bring Infiniti home to Japan. He had said this to me last September in his office in Hong Kong, and he reiterated it again in Detroit when talking to the Wall Street Journal’s man in Japan, Chester Dawson. Back home in Yokohama, people are sucking air through their teeth. “Muzukashi desu ne.” This will be difficult.

Infinitis are sold in about 50 markets worldwide, but not in Japan. In Japan, an Infiniti G is sold as the Nissan Skyline for instance.  De Nysschen wants to change this. Back in Hong Kong, he said:

Ironically, we take models that are unique Infiniti platforms, developed for Infiniti, and in Japan, we put a Nissan badge on them. I want to go and speak to my colleagues who are responsible for the Japanese domestic market and explore a way in a pragmatic manner in which we can respect their needs and their expectations and their requirements for the Nissan dealer network, but also that we can give Infiniti the opportunity to establish the brand in its home market.”

To Dawson, de Nysschen said that a study is underway to determine how to integrate the brand into Nissan’s domestic dealer network. De Nysschen loves Japan, he was the head of Audi Japan before he took the U.S. job.

A usually reliable contact at Nissan’s Yokohama HQ gives the project low odds. It is tricky and costly to establish a new brand in Japan, even for a Nissan. In Yokohama, they point at Lexus’ lack of success at home, and that it was not for a lack of trying. At Toyota, the large Crown is an easier sell than a large Lexus. De Nysschen’s boss at Nissan, Andy Palmer, echoed that sentiment to the WSJ:

“It is tough to come into the Japanese market. If you look at Lexus, it hasn’t been an easy journey for them.”

Most likely, the study into Infiniti’s entry of the Japanese market will end in the recommendation to get a firm foot-hold in other markets first.

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24 Comments on “Infiniti Wants Japan, But Does Japan Want Infiniti?...”

  • avatar

    I find it interesting and somewhat ironic that the Japanese premium brands like Infiniti, Acura and Lexus were concocted to compete in the huge North American luxury markets as an answer to the Euro marques and yet the JDM barely acknowledges/buys them. I wonder why that is…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to insinuate, IHateCars.

      It’s no secret that the Japanese luxury marques have brought over JDM (sometimes Euro) cars tarted up in luxury guise since inception – many of which were available under the parent brand in Japan. When you’ve been able to get a Skyline or Fuga in Japan as Nissans, why would you now want to buy those same cars as likely more expensive Infinitis?

      This is roughly the equivalent of Ford’s laziness with Lincoln (up to now?) – placing Lincoln badges on a Fusion or Edge doesn’t really make for a compelling purchase to most folks when that same vehicle is already available as a Ford.

      There were early examples of such rebadging with the Japanese lux brands, such as the early ES being a gussied-up Camry, or the I30/35-Maxima twins. The last bastion of this approach currently is the lux SUV, but most of the sedan offerings from Acura, Lexus and Infiniti now at least feature unique sheet metal and interiors to further differentiate themselves from the parent brand models in the US.

      In case you’re wondering, here’s a handy list of some of the Japanese luxury cars and their JDM parent-brand equivalents:

      RL = Legend (also Acura Legend, previous gens)
      1st & 2nd gen TL = Sabre/Inspire

      LS = Celsior
      GS = Aristo
      ES = Windom
      IS = Altezza

      M (Q70) = Leopard, Gloria, now Fuga
      G (Q50/60) = Skyline
      EX (QX50) = Skyline Crossover
      G20 (RIP) = Primera

      • 0 avatar

        When the Accord started growing, the 7th and 8th generation US-market Accord took place of the TL as the Inspire. I guess by that account, I’ve owned 1 Integra and 3 Inspires.

      • 0 avatar

        You forgot:

        Q45 / President
        J30 / Leopard
        M30 / Gloria (?)

      • 0 avatar

        Lexus SC = Toyota Soarer
        Lexus RX = Toyota Harrier
        Lexus GX = Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
        Lexus LX = Toyota Land Cruiser

        Infiniti QX56 (QX70) = Nissan Armada/Nissan Patrol
        Infiniti QX4 (RIP) = Nissan Terrano Regulus

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Some of the JDM model names are surprisingly good. I like Acura Legend and Sabre better than RL and TL. Somehow the weird sharp edges of a TL make more sense as a Sabre. From Infiniti, Leopard is better than Q70 or M and Skyline is better than Q50 or G. Imagine video that morphs from a leopard chasing down prey to an Infiniti Leopard accelerating.

    • 0 avatar

      In Japan and Korea – the automakers are “full-line” brands – selling everything from econoboxes to luxury sedans to commercial trucks.

      Mercedes is like this in Europe with the econobox A and B Classes (the outgoing A Class), stripped down E Class as the “go-to” taxi cab, and commercial vans and trucks (including sanitation trucks).

      In Japan and Korea, the luxury models have their own distinctive badging (such as the Crown for Toyota or the Genesis for Hyundai).

      And despite the Toyota Celsior having been switched over to the Lexus LS in Japan, the flagship of the fleet is still a Toyota, the Century.

  • avatar

    It’s more a testament of the lower expectations in the NA market, I think. If a run of the mill Japanese Accord can be rebadged as “Acura TSX” and sold as a luxury car over here, I think it shows our expectations need adjusting.

    Those cars sell in Japan, they just sell under the parent name and not the luxury name.

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps….but I think selling the TSX over here had more to do with a mid-size platform already existing in a foreign market that they could easily dress up for a luxury mid-sizer here. The TL or RL isn’t sold in the JDM IIRC.

    • 0 avatar

      @kvndoom – I’m not sure how this means our “expectations need adjusting.”

      Expectations for an entry-level lux sedan like the TSX are actually pretty high – most in this class are compared against the 3-series, and as such performance is key.

      Otherwise, good fit and finish, quality materials, and decent NVH levels are expected – and most of the Japanese luxury offerings have these facets covered. The first-gen TSX was a huge hit with auto journalists, and for good reason, it was simply a great car and made a compelling case for a near-lux or entry-lux sedan in the low $30k range.

      • 0 avatar


        Europe: “it’s just another Honda”

        America: “WOW, this is SO MUCH BETTER than a Honda!”

        Same car.

        Anyway, I’m certainly not bashing. I’m looking forward to driving my 2006 TSX again tomorrow. Been 2 long weeks without it!

      • 0 avatar

        @kvndoom: But therein lies the rub; most US customers have no idea the TSX has those humble origins, and will never see a TSX lacking those essential ingredients we so closely associate with “luxury”.

        Take any entry-level lux sedan and strip out any scrap of leather, remove the infotainment screen, remove sound deadening and detune the engine and it won’t seem very special anymore to people who don’t appreciate good driving dynamics.

        I’m not suggesting that the Euro accord was a penalty box, but certainly only seeing it in near-lux garb in the US helps to reinforce its status. That’s why the Ford/Lincoln model is/was so ineffective – people could see the 1st-gen MKZ was just a gussied-up Fusion. I guarantee that the vast majority of TSX owners aren’t aware of its origins, at least partially because you’ll never see both at a stoplight.

      • 0 avatar

        I think that the market for autos has become so competitive that many of the so-called luxury cars sold in NA are actually not really any more luxurious than optioned-up “bread-and-butter brand” models. To me, a Toyota Avalon with leather is no better or worse than an ES 350. I think it is all about the badge on the grill for many people in this country. I mean, damn, all during the 1980’s the GM intermediate and large sedans were totally identical no matter the actual make. Why buy a Caddy when you can get the identical car as a Pontiac for $15k less?

        It’s all about status, not the actual product. And remember, Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus were birthed in the 1980’s, the decade of Greed. Forty years ago people would have thought of the idea of paying thousands more for the Lexus version of the Toyota Camry to be ridiculous.

      • 0 avatar

        Isn’t every luxury car about equipment? The Avalon doesn’t save you much money and that is accounting for features only. The ES has some more features at the top end and nicer interior furnishings, nicer wood, better leather etc. Just the fact that you point out the Avalon means you must get the “nicer Camry” in the first place…

        I didn’t totally understand the idea of the Camry based Lexus, now I have an old ES I get it. A 12 year old car with not one chip in the hood paint, prefect light grey leather, equipment some modern lesser cars I could have bought don’t even have like dimming mirrors and HIDs, actual Cali walnut wood, etc. The product is differentiated enough for me. I think the “decent car built with upgraded materials” works pretty well.

    • 0 avatar

      It isn’t our expectations so much as our priorities. For us, a car with dynamic and sharp handling is almost a niche because the vast majority of North-American buyers don’t prioritize that sort of thing. Even I wouldn’t make sportiness a requisite on my daily-driver. But in Europe and certain other markets, it’s almost a prerequisite. The UK in particular finds American-market cars (including the Camaro, which was introduced there a little while ago with vast suspension and steering improvements) to be big, wallowing beasts, hence the term “yank-tanks.” Ever since way back, our idea of luxury was a large car with a reasonable amount of power and tons of creature comforts, and it wasn’t until the Germans and Brits started importing cars here that the system was disrupted. I can just imagine how many fewer Accords Honda would sell if our Accord was the TSX. The current Accord really is the quintessential American car. The TSX is a serious toy for enthusiasts…which is why hardly any are sold…

  • avatar

    I wish to nominate the Infiniti G37 Coupe as for LWAT. That’s the Least Worst Automobile Today award.

  • avatar

    If Nissan ceased operations at Infiniti, would anyone REALLY miss the brand?
    They would be better off using valuable resources (money) on expanding and upgrading the Nissan lineup.

    • 0 avatar

      I would. I no longer have one in my garage, but I think they’ve had plenty of compelling vehicles over the years, especially over the last decade.

      The G (now Q50/60) has long been the true Japanese 3-series fighter and is an excellent car in its own right. Where Lexus had previously traded driving dynamics in favor of staid design and hushed floatiness, Infiniti’s vehicles have eschewed this formula – and thank goodness for that. The current M is a great ride and the FX is incredibly athletic and features daring design.

      Just because you’re relatively unaware of their products (or their strengths) doesn’t make them subpar. Furthermore, why would Nissan need to upgrade their lineup? The Altima is a vastly better driver than the Camry and Accord and has a more upscale interior as well. The crappiest Sentra ever made was replaced with one that at least doesn’t look like some tossed off Saturn design, and appears to offer modernity that the Corolla lacks. The Versa isn’t perfect, but offers cavernous interior space for your dollar. The Maxima is one of those stranded flagship models that is a tough sell against the Infiniti G, since it is FWD and CVT only. And my 370Z puts a smile on my face every time I take it out.

      I’m just saying, you could say the same about Toyota and Honda right now, even though I find myself a fan of all three.

  • avatar

    Only one post here used the word “status”. I’ll throw in another – “image”. Americans, more than most, shop for brands and image. In my 5 years in the U.S. I never ceased to be amazed by the way people judge each other by the car they drive. The three pointed star or the blue and white roundel or the prancing horse mean as much to these people as the car beneath. This is what Toyota strove for and achieved with Lexus, Nissan with Infiniti and Mazda tried with Eunos. GM, Ford and Chrysler are masters of charging more for a select brand. (Or used to be)
    Also it is not just the JDM market where the Infinitis sell badged as Nissans.

  • avatar

    I just took the time to look up some of Toyota’s JDM vehicles, especially the Century and Crown. Wow! I wish our Lexus vehicles were styled like the Century! It’s like a Japan-made Bentley, but with some 1960’s detailing mixed in. A very neat looking car.

    Personally, I’ve always preferred Infiniti styling to Lexus (or Toyota, for that matter). The current Infiniti M is beautiful – a bargain Maserati Quattroporte in my humble opinion. The G37 is an awesome car that stands out on it’s own right. The new JX is a great looking crossover….it seems to me that Infiniti does a better job of making their cars “different enough” from plain Nissans than Toyota does with Lexus. I’ve never understood why Infiniti hasn’t become as popular as Lexus. And several posters above this are correct: most NIssan vehicles are superior to their Toyota rivals (particularly the new Sentra and new Altima). I guess the Totota connection and reputation are still the reason Lexus vehicles are preferred over Acura and Infiniti. To me, however, Infiniti’s are better handling, better looking, and better all-around cars.

  • avatar

    i remember when lexus was first mooted. the concept was the americans would never buy an expensive toyota. so aichi took a nice toyota (is there such a thing?) and slapped a naff new brand on it and the americans loved it. the other japanese manufacturers were in that scam like a dirty shirt.

    me, i liked the honda nsx better than the acura nsx even though it was the same damned car ….

  • avatar

    Funny the whole point of the Acura/Infiniti/Lexus was that the Americans and others wouldn’t buy a nicer car, also the new dealer network allowed them to give a better experience along with the nicer car, look at the dealer experience from Lexus.

    We were told Japan did not have those problems. But I guess just like the Germans are peddling to Japan status seekers, the Japanese luxury names have built up enough reputation around the world they want in. Problem is they already sell the products there under the parent name…

    @bloodnok I guess you don’t really understand the genesis of the Lexus, the Celsior/LS400 was developed specifically to Launch the brand in America, and was a unique product to the American market. Does it really matter that they used a different name? You could say the JDM Celsior was a rebadged LS400 which would be more accurate. The other products were already existing JDM products. The ES was based on the Camry but was a home market Windom, how much “the same” is up to opinion but hardly a rebadge. The ES250 was weak but later generations were increasingly developed for the American market as sales ramped up. The story is similar for Acura and Infiniti.

    Cadillac sells pretty much a fancy (insert other GM car based on same platform here) but isn’t taken to task by the same people it seems…so this is more a domestic vs. import lover thing or something. My Mom drove Audis and would never drive an Acura “just a fancy Honda” she said. I’m sure some Acura driver felt the same of her “fancy Volkswagen” and we know the Porsche 911 is just a fancy Beetle what a scam…

  • avatar

    Will there be an Infiniti GT-R?

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