By on May 15, 2013

IMG_4647“So would this new Infiniti Q50 be the new JDM Nissan Skyline?” asked TTAC commenter luvmyv8. One of the benefits of having a TTAC editor on the other side of the globe, as opposed to in a basement in Peoria, is that we can get first-hand answers to luvmyv8, straight from Nissan’s and Infiniti’s top men.IMG_4161

“What I can tell you today is that the Skyline name will continue in Japan,” said Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn in regards to luvmyv8. When pressed further, Ghosn said that bringing Infiniti to Japan “has always been the object of a lot of discussion within the company.” Ghosn started his answer with a mild put-down:

“With the arrival of newcomers … by Johan de Nysschen now heading the Infiniti business, he also brought with him a lot of very competent people from the industry who have a very good knowledge of the premium market. We are debating and challenging everything. But so far there is no decision that has been taken about the introduction of the Infiniti brand to Japan. But it is being discussed. There are pros, there are cons. Usually, we make thorough business decisions based on the analysis of the pros and the cons. For the moment, all I can tell you is that there is no decision to introduce Infiniti in Japan. The Skyline will continue in Japan.”

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TTAC readers know that Infiniti chief de Nysschen is a strong advocate of Infiniti coming home to Japan. In an interview last year in Hong Kong, de Nysschen said :

“Ironically, we take models that are unique Infiniti platforms, developed for Infiniti, and in Japan, we put a Nissan badge on them.”

De Nysschen may be a newcomer to Nissan, but not to Japan. He managed Audi’s business in Japan, and came here in 1999, at the same time as Ghosn arrived in Tokyo. Ghosn immediately wanted to hire de Nysschen, but had to take a rain-check. De Nysschen knows the market, and that it is not easy.

When a reporter asked de Nysschen in Tochigi about Infiniti’s homecoming plans, the questioner found himself instantly castigated:

“So, that means that if you ask Mr. Ghosn a question and he doesn’t answer, you are making another attempt to get an answer out of me?”

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Nevertheless, there was an answer, delivered wrapped into de Nysschen’s trademark carefully carved sentences:

To be a global brand, you might well want to compete in the premium sector in your domestic market.

We spend a lot of time talking about Infiniti brand values, and how those are to be communicated, not only in the tone and manner of our marketing and our advertising communication, but also, they need to be expressed and conveyed through the product, through design, through technology, through the engineering.

It seems to me to be very difficult for all the men and women who work on expressing these values in the Infiniti product to then not also see the vehicle and the brand being available in the domestic market.

Also, in term s of the international flavor for the brand, our customers are internationally mobile. And one important cornerstone of premium brands is that wherever you encounter them, they are positioned consistently, they portray the same values and qualities, whether you meet them in New York, or in London, or in Beijing, or indeed in Tokyo.”

After having made a strong philosophical case for estranged Infiniti coming home, de Nysschen sees himself faced with the realities:

“One of the disadvantages of course is cost of entry. It is very expensive to set up a distribution network in Japan. Last time I looked, not too many free open spaces were shouting to come and build an automotive showroom.”

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Again, this is coming from a former Audi manager who had busted a cozy (and largely unknown) distribution agreement between Volkswagen and Toyota, and who had talked Ferdinand Piech into setting up an exclusive network in Japan. Eventually, this led to the end of Volkswagen’s Japanese distribution agreement with Toyota. This case should be a required course in the education of carmakers, especially those who feel entitled to major shares of the Japanese market without really trying. Continued de Nysschen:

It is my commitment that Infiniti will achieve profitable growth, and that we will achieve very quickly a positive contribution to the overall operating profit of Nissan. That means that we have to balance the speed with which we want to enter the Japanese market.”

I take that as a carefully wrapped no.

In regards to luvmyv8’s question and with regards to luvmyv8, de Nysschen said that “on the Skyline, I really have no further comments to add other than those already expressed by Mr. Ghosn. I would urge you to be patient for just a little while.”

As this is a question and answer session, let me try to answer  28-cars-later’s inquiry. He said: “Bertel, how do you get such access to Ghosn… is Nissan just *this* friendly to the press?” Instead of a simple and pat “yes,” let’s make a separate story out of that.

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19 Comments on “Inside The Industry: If It’s So Hard For Infiniti To Come To Japan, How Easy Do You Expect It To Be For Other Brands?...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    In 10-20 yrs there won’t be anyone in Japan to buy Infinitis. Their birth rate has been like half the replacement rate since the 80s. And Japanese car brands make more cars outside the country than within (for reasons Ghosn has explained candidly). If there is any market to be going after its obviously China. Infiniti would get much more bang for its buck investing there.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, the birth rate in Germany is worse than that of Japan, and it has been bad since it collapsed after 1970.

      Establishing a brand is a long and costly endeavor, it takes decades and many billions. You want to do that in a growth market, not in a market that shrinks, and where the current inhabitants defend their shrinking customer base against intruders.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    How did Toyota pull it off with Lexus in Japan?

    • 0 avatar

      There is one thing you will learn if you live long enough: Just because other people are doing something, it doesn’t automatically mean it is a success.

      • 0 avatar
        Stephen7

        If by “pull it off” you mean reaching a market share of 1% (which is all Lexus had last year in Japan), I can understand Ghosn’s skepticism. Introducing the Infiniti brand to Japan to would only cannibalize Nissan’s share at best.

        I also think de Nysschen’s version of Nissan’s history is a bit disingenuous. Infiniti was born from rebadged Nissans, not the other way around. In fact, their second most popular vehicle in the US is on a FWD platform.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    A “prickly” exchange all around.

    But very interesting and a worthwhile contribution. Thanks, B.S.!

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Thanks for the nice article. Selfishly I’m kind of happy just because I think the Skyline name is a wonderfully poetic appelation and I’d hate to see it lose out to a generic alphanumeric name. We need more cars with nice names.

    • 0 avatar
      sckid213

      Totally agree. For some reason I think “Skyline” is a badass name for a car. Shame we don’t get to see the name here in the U.S. Especially since it’s an English word.

      I think Infiniti would sell many more Q50s if they were badged as Skylines. They’re throwing away every cent of brand equity they earned with the G name, so now would have been the perfect time to do it. Oh well.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        So true. Since Gran Turismo everyone knows the Skyline name. The Infinti G series has a great reputation. Shame they are naming the new series in the US after an SUV.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          Not really after an SUV — the former flagship was the Q45. Don’t get me wrong, the idea seems quite misguided, but that’s where it comes from.

          • 0 avatar
            TonyJZX

            here’s the worst thing… Nissan want to throw away that equity in the R35 GTR and yet around here people still call it a Skyline because thats what it is… an overweight ugly vast monstrosity of a car that somehow sets world records

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      I’m glad the Skyline will live on as well. So much equity and history there. The Skyline actually predates Ford’s Mustang by 10 years and we all know how much cachet the chrome pony has…. I know as I had one, hence my user name. Funny how the Skyline is automatically associated with GT-R, much in the way people automatically associate Mustang and performance, not all Mustangs were performance cars (4 cylinder Mustang II anyone?) in the same way that not all Skyline’s are GT-R’s! (4 cylinder R32 Skyline GXi anyone?)In fact the first Prince Skyline was actually positioned as a luxury car. Prince started the performance ball rolling with the Sport convertible in ’57, then in the mid 60′s, they took a normal 4 door Skyline sedan and enlarged the front end to equip it with an inline 6 and thus was born the Skyline GT-B, this car gave Porsche fits in the Japanese GT. Then in ’69, Nissan (who merged with Prince and thus received the Skyline nameplate)released the GT-R and a legend was born…..

      Thanks for this article, it’s neat to see Mr. Ghosn respond to questions such as these, from an American Skyline enthusiast.

  • avatar
    Styles79

    What I find interesting here is that NO-ONE has acknowledged the fact that Infiniti product has been sold in Japan before. From 1990-1997 or thereabouts you could get an Infiniti Q45 in Japan…

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Sort of. I think you mean maybe 1989-1996, and it was called the Nissan Infiniti Q45. It was related to the Nissan President.

      The second generation and third generation Q45 were called the Nissan Cima in Japan.

      • 0 avatar
        Styles79

        A year here, a year there, (production year vs “model year”) that’s the product I mean. It had no Nissan badges on it though. It was basically the same product as the USA Q45. Yes, the president is relateded to both. And the Cima was around prior to the F50, it was essentially a slightly larger Cedric/Gloria.

        But that’s by-the-by.

        I just think it’s interesting that it hasn’t been mentioned. Would a dual brand dealership approach be feasible? Perhaps one of the more premium existing Nissan channels carrying the Infiniti product.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    I strongly object to all the Infiniti badging on the Red Bull F1 team. The engine in the car is a Renault with decades of Formula 1 success behind it and just because the U.S. does not buy French cars it makes me ill to see this success being used to sell Infinitis (fat Nissans) via the Austin G.P.

    P.S. Does anyone know whether there is a link between the Skyline name and the similarly named mountaintop straight at the Bathurst Mount Panorama circuit where the Skyline GTRs won a few decades back beating the otherwise dominant Holdens and Falcons. That GTR was informally known as Godzilla.

    • 0 avatar
      Styles79

      Well I’m sure that there’s no Red Bull in the cars either, but that’s just how sponsorship works, you pays your money and you gets your name on the car.

      I don’t think there’s any connectionbetween the car and the track, the Skyline name has been around on Nissan (and before that, Prince) products since the late ’50s… well before Nissan products were any where near Mt Panorama.


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