The Truth About Cars » de Nysschen The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:48:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » de Nysschen 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? Wed, 15 May 2013 12:31:03 +0000 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.”


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?”


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.”


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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“Forget Volume:” After Work Talk With Johan de Nysschen, CEO Of Infiniti. Part 2 Thu, 27 Sep 2012 08:15:16 +0000

In Part 1 of our talk with Infiniti CEO Johan de Nysschen at his new office at the Infiniti world headquarters in Hong Kong, we talked about his new job, about new directions for Infiniti, and for the brand. In the second part, we talk about the new cars Infiniti will bring, where they will be made, what engines will be in them, and what deNysschen thinks about the plan to sell half a million by 2016.

In April at the Beijing auto show, Nissan’s Andy Palmer said he wants to see 500,000 Infiniti sold by 2016, while conceding that this is “an aggressive target.” In the last fiscal year, Infiniti sold 141,000 units worldwide, 105,000 of those in the Americas. In carefully crafted words, de Nysschen explains what he thinks of the 500,000 unit target:

“Forget volume. Whether those 500,000 come in 2015 or 2018 is less important. We are building a brand. If you put the volume first, and every day when you go home you check whether you hit the scoreboard, that forces you into a more short term orientation.”

As strong product portfolio “is the very core of establishing a brand,” says de Nysschen, and he wants more and better product.

Already in the pipeline is a “new compact premium model that we will position below the current G as a car that will be manufactured in Europe.” De Nysschen does not want to comment on reports that this compact premium is being developed together with Daimler, and that it will be built at Magna-Steyr in Austria, but his face says that the reports are not delusional.

A second new Infiniti ”is in the consideration phase, not yet in the decision phase,” but when it is decided, then this car “potentially could, I say COULD be manufactured in Mexico.” Why not in the US? Because Mexico has a free trade agreement with Europe, the U.S. has not.

There definitely will be an Infiniti to be built in China, actually two, as a start. “We have to expand our footprint in China,” says de Nysschen. “China has got to be a new volume hub for us, and a prerequisite for a volume hub is localization.”

Despite the disclaimers, de Nysschen states that “so now already we have three other factories that would complement the production in Tochigi.” Tochigi is Nissan’s plant north of Tokyo that currently produces most Infiniti models, all for export. Straining under the high yen, this is an expensive proposition, and producing in three locations outside of Japan will make the yen more palatable..

De Nysschen is outspoken in his demand for a halo car: “I want to have a product that will be emotionally appealing, and also very premium, and which very easily will draw a great deal of attention.”

Tying de Nysschen down to something more specific becomes a bit of a fencing act with a very agile opponent. No, it won’t be what at Audi he would have called a “D-class” car or “what we call the F segment here. That is a market segment that is populated by the S-Class, the 7-Series, the A8. No, I don’t think we want to enter that segment, it is overpopulated, its customers tend to be very conservative and very brand loyal.”

Then what?

De Nysschen feints, throws out a few other segments where “Infiniti has white space,” from crossovers to “wagons for Europe.” When I suggest that a high end Infiniti sports car could surely be very appealing and would draw a lot of attention, de Nysschen stops me in mid-sentence, issues a warning look and says: “Let’s leave it at that.” Cut off, I am unable to elicit whether the aspirational auto will be one of the four aforementioned, or whether it will be a fifth one.

With the Nissan GT-R, with a possibly resurrected Renault Alpine Berlinette, and with talk about possibly another sporty luxury brand residing under Renault, there should be enough DNA around for a successful super-sport cross-fertilization. It could do Infiniti good.

While we are busy creating new rumors, de Nysschen takes the opportunity of squashing old ones. Before he does that, de Nysschen paints a hyper-realistic picture of Web 2.0 car journalism:

One reporter reads or hears something, he interprets it in a slightly different way so that he can report it uniquely and originally, and by the time the 20th reporter does that, we have something that it is very distant from the truth.”

True, true.

A prime example of those twenty degrees of separation are recent reports that Infiniti wants to deprive the world of the V8. Emphatically not true, says de Nysschen. He won’t “instruct our development engineers to design a new 6 liter V8.” But kill the current V8s? Heavens, no. Actually, he praises the wisdom of U.S. lawmakers that prevented wholesale murder of the mighty mills:

“With the way the American legislation has been formulated, with trucks in the American definition having to comply with a different set of requirements than passenger cars, there will be less urgency to phase out the big V8s.”

The V8s also could be made more efficient, as an ecologically responsible de Nysschen quickly adds.

But in the very long term, de Nysschen thinks that big bad engines definitely could be endangered species:

 “One of the inevitable phenomena that comes with wanting to reduce the carbon footprints, and reduce emissions and consumption, is that that displacement will come down and that the vehicles will become lighter without compromising on performance. In the long run, I could imagine that the high performance ICE of the future will be a smaller displacement V6 that probably uses turbocharging technology and a whole host of engine management, extracts a great deal of power and in the combination with lighter weight gives a vehicle with improved handling dynamics and lower fuel consumption without sacrificing one grain of driving enjoyment and performance.”

While the world will not be deprived of V8-powered Infinitis for the foreseeable future, de Nysschen needs smaller engines fast. When he was touring dealers and regions, one question was asked again and again: Where are the four cylinders? At that, de Nysschen gets, well, stimulated:

We need an extension of the available powertrains. We need smaller capacity 4 cylinder engines for China, Europe, and the U.S. In the U.S., where one would think big powerful engines are common, half of the BMW 5-Series sedans are bought with small engines. Same with the 3-Series. With the Audi A4, the take rate for four cylinders is 80 percent. We don’t have anything to play. We need the same for Europe where the penalties for powerful engines with the CO2 taxation is quite large, and of course, we need diesel. You can’t play in Europe without diesel.”

Working at an Infiniti that is owned by Nissan, de Nysschen is daily asked to render a confession of faith in the electric vehicle, and he is ready for it before I am done asking the question:

Every car company right now should be working on some form of electric vehicle. If they aren’t, they are going to be behind the curve. That does not mean that we want to have an Infiniti version of the Nissan Leaf. We have our own ideas of what we want. The young premium consumers are very progressive and forward thinking in terms of technology. I want to make sure that Infiniti has a compelling offering for that audience as well.”

Also, says de Nysschen, as a future big player in China, Infiniti must be ready for stringent requirements in terms of emissions and consumption.

The sun has set somewhere over China as I ask de Nysschen a last question. How does he feel that Infiniti cars don’t get sold in Japan? Does he want to change this?

“Philosophically, I would say the answer has to be yes. 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.”

After emigrating to Hong Kong, Infiniti might finally come home to Japan.

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After Work Talk With Johan de Nysschen, CEO Of Infiniti. Part One Tue, 25 Sep 2012 12:30:00 +0000

A few months ago, Nissan’s Infiniti premium division moved out of the office building in Yokohama and out from the shadow of its parent company. Infiniti set up its new world headquarters in Hong Kong. Nissan also snagged Audi’s America-chief Johan de Nysschen as Infiniti’s new boss. Last Friday, after work, we sat down with de Nysschen in his new office on the 35th floor of the Citibank Tower in Hong Kong’s downtown, to talk about his and Infiniti’s plans for the future. This is a two-part interview. The second part will appear tomorrow.

De Nysschen’s office is spacious, but subdued in comparison to the workplaces of other leaders of industry. No armed guards, no sometimes more dangerous personal assistants bar the entry. He sits at a working man’s desk: Three computers of various sizes, a printer. A glass door provides limited privacy from otherwise open floor offices with space for maybe 100 people when Infiniti’s World Headquarters are fully staffed. So how does the new CEO like the new office in the new city?

Space is more constrained in Hong Kong, but the view is better. From my old office in Auburn Hills, on a clear day, I you could see Chrysler. From here … “ de Nysschen makes as sweeping motion while the sun sets over a still unfamiliar Hong Kong skyline, and he stops. “Honestly, the two months I have been here, I haven’t had time to admire the view a lot.”

He also did not spend much time at the office. His severely battered aluminum Rimowa case in hand, de Nysschen went on a familiarization tour around the world, met with customers, dealers, importers, employees.

De Nysschen is a self-confessed workaholic:

“60 days into this job , I can tell you that it has been quite a while that I had worked that hard and around the clock. I like to  immerse myself into the business. This is immensely stimulating.”

“Stimulating” is a word we will hear more often tonight.

Impressed by the surroundings, I immediately inquire how one gets such a job. It turns out that de Nysschen and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn go a long ways back to the times when both of them had arrived in Japan in 1999.  Ghosn immediately wanted to hire de Nysschen, and add him to his stable of international executives that engineered what entered history as one of the most spectacular turn-arounds, the rescue and ascend of Nissan. Ghosn had to take a rain-check:

“I was not ready before. There was a lot of work to be done at Audi, it was a very satisfying and stimulating career I had at Audi.”

This time around, Ghosn had an offer that sounded stimulating to a man who had been in charge of Audi in increasingly important markets: South Africa, Japan, finally the U.S., where de Nysschen was CEO of Audi of America since 2004. In these jobs, he pretty much had to sell what was sent by Ingolstadt. At Infiniti, he can truly mold products and brand.

“To influence the brand from the core was a large part of the attraction. In the US, a key market for Audi, I could get involved in the last 25 percent. The only exception was the forthcoming Audi A3 sedan. That I could influence 100 percent. At Infiniti, I can influence from zero. And that of course is very stimulating. I have always been good at construction businesses, turning around underperforming businesses, molding and holding a brand. Those are my strengths because I get stimulated by it.”

De Nysschen is a native of South Africa, and when he says “good,” it sometimes sounds like it rhymes with “foot.”

De Nysschen and Ghosn share a common vision, and, says de Nysschen, “my contractual agreement with Mr Ghosn was to ultimately deliver on our vision: A tier one premium brand as part of the Nissan stable. A second major revenue and profit stream for the Nissan group.”

It will take time to get there, but de Nysschen brought the time. The 52 year old sees this as “the final chapter in my career – establishing a premium brand is a long term thing. Great brands are not born overnight.”

Most carmakers attempt to replicate the success of Audi. De Nysschen worked for Audi since 1993, right after Ferdinand Piëch took the helm coming from Audi, which he had managed since 1988. When Piëch took over, Audi had an image, sales and profitability worse than Opel, something that is easily forgotten. The brand turned around under Piech’s guidance, and only came into full bloom in the new millennium. De Nysschen knows it took time and hard work, he was there. And that’s why he is at Infiniti.

The Infiniti brand has been around since 1989, but to de Nysschen, it is still “like a toddler.” It is time for Infiniti to grow up, and de Nysschen will be coach and teacher. Like Toyota’s Lexus and Honda’s Acura, Infiniti was fathered by the Plaza Accord, when, after serious rounds of Japan-bashing, the Japanese government was intimidated into allegedly voluntary export restraints. The restraints were unit-based, Japan went upmarket, sold bigger, more expensive cars under new luxury brands, with the unintended consequence of draining the life out of Detroit’s most profitable segments.

“Premium car companies of can be quite profitable,” says de Nysschen, implying that Infiniti could grow up also in this regard. “If you look at the financial performance of BMW, Mercedes and Audi, they are immensely profitable car companies. Audi contributes approximately 40 percent of the total profits of the Volkswagen group. And it comes from a market segment which a Nissan brand cannot reach.”

Growing up to be self-sufficient and successful means that Infiniti must cut the cord from a sometimes overbearing mother Infiniti. He needs to take the same course Piëch took: “Markentrennung,” as it was called during de Nysschen’s Volkswagen times, brand separation. Says de Nysschen:

“The Infiniti brand as it existed until now has really been managed in the same way, in the same philosophy and with the same processes as Nissan. Nissan has been very successful for the mainstream brand. But in a way, ironically, those very same philosophies and processes and policies are also the ones that inhibit success in the premium market. Expectations and requirements for success are fundamentally different. I think the realization has come that that status quo for Infiniti needs to be challenged.”

Of course, this would be easier if, as at Audi, Infiniti would be its own company, with its own factories, R&D, and a boss who becomes group chief and who can put words into action. But with a strong Carlos Ghosn shuttling between Paris and Yokohama, and with Infiniti on its own in Hong Kong and out from under the Nissan coattails, with a little extra effort, it can work. It won’t be the same as at Audi, where de Nysschen, according to lore, banned the word “Volkswagen.”

We need to live out the Infiniti values, and I will work on brand separation. We need brand purity. At the same time, we need to have the protection and support from the Nissan group. We have to be proud that we are Infiniti, that we are separate, that we have our own identity, but we also have to recognize that we would not be successful without the support of Nissan. We need to respect that. There will be a far higher degree of codependence with Nissan than what might have existed in my previous life.”

Tomorrow, we talk about the new cars Infiniti will bring, where they are made, what engines will be in them, and what de Nysschen thinks of the plan to sell half a million by 2016.

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With de Nysschen, Nissan’s Infiniti Has Its Hands In Audi’s Secret Sauce Tue, 05 Jun 2012 11:53:36 +0000

Managers of premium auto brands keep asking themselves (and sometime me): “What is the secret of Audi’s success?” 30 years ago, Audi had an image worse than Opel. Last April, Audi outsold Bavarian rival BMW for the first time on a global basis. These days, any large automaker that has a luxury division seeks to emulate Audi’s success. Now, Nissan’s Infiniti could be one step closer to getting its hands in Audi’s elusive secret sauce. They hired one of Audi’s key men.

Last weekend, Johan de Nysschen left his job as president of Audi of America. It was the same weekend when Volkswagen announced a major management reshuffle. According to the Wall Street Journal, “it was unclear if he left as a result of the shuffling or had accepted another company’s offer.” Maybe, it was both.

Nysschen submitted to the advances of a sometimes very persuasive Carlos Ghosn, and will run Nissan’s Infiniti division effective July 2012. Nysschen will switch from Herndon in the suburbs of Washington, DC, to the bustle of Hong Kong, where Infiniti opened its world headquarters a few weeks ago.  Nysschen will be a Senior Vice President of Nissan, and he will be reporting to a Nissan Executive Vice President, Nissan’s multi-role Andy Palmer (product planning, business strategy, marketing communications “and responsible for Infiniti.”)

South Africa born de Nysschen is quite familiar with Japan. Before moving to America, he headed up Audi of Japan for five years. Here he made headlines by cutting ties with Toyota, which at the time distributed a good deal of Volkswagen and Audi cars in Japan. Eventually, this led to the end of Volkswagen’s Japanese distribution agreement with Toyota.

Looking at de Nysschen’s new SVP title, one of the many facets of Audi’s success becomes evident. Volkswagen’s brands are rigorously separated, even if it is at the sometimes high cost of massively duplicated functionality. Audi and Volkswagen are even more separated than most Volkswagen Group brands. Audi is a distinct corporation in its own right, with its own management, even its shares are publicly traded. Commonalities between cars and group companies are well-hidden in the realm of the Volkswagen Group. If Infiniti would be Audi, de Nysschen would be the company’s Vorstandsvorsitzender, or President and Chairman of the Board of Management.

De Nysschen has his job cut out for himself. According to the WSJ, “Infiniti in some ways occupies the same territory as Audi a decade or two ago, with a weak identity among car shoppers and designs that lack distinction.” Which illustrates the dangerous late effects of branding sins: Two decades ago, Audi, led by a strong and strict Ferdinand Piech, already had found its own identity, which became even stronger once Piech took over at Volkswagen and gave his old power base in Ingolstadt completely free rein. But it took a decade until the WSJ noticed it.

Nysschen probably has changed jobs at the right time. Volkswagen’s massive management reshuffle on a global scale indicates that someone is worried in Wolfsburg. The Volkswagen Group is heading into rough waters at home in Europe. Today, further management changes were announced, and more men are likely to go overboard. The last decade was a decade of German carmakers. Their luck could be running out.

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