Ask The Best And Brightest: To Germany And Beyond!

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask the best and brightest to germany and beyond

Our friend, frequent RoundAbout Show guest Mirko Reinhardt, has found an Infiniti dealership that’s kind of like Surf City. In Surf City, as our older readers will remember, there are two girls for every boy, but in Germany, there’s an dealer with two Infinitis in stock for every one sold across the entire country last month. What’s a Japanese wanna-be luxury brand to do?

We’ll let Mirko tell the tale:

On a recent walk through Hamburg, I noticed the nation’s first Infiniti dealer had a lot full of mostly foil-wrapped new M30d, FX30d and EX30d. There were cars in front of the shiny building, next to it and behind it. I didn’t count, but it must have been about 100.

After an autumn 2009 launch, Infiniti still hasn’t made it very far in Germany. Despite offering a Renault-designed 3-liter turbodiesel in the M, EX and FX, Infiniti has found only 48 German buyers in February, 39 in January. They’re trying every trick in the book: Cheap leases, free maintenance, they’ll pick up cars on trailer for maintenance if you live less than 150km away from one of their very few dealers.

It’s no use. Germans just don’t buy them. Lexus isn’t much better: After 21 years of selling – or trying to sell – cars in Germany, the best they can do is 118 cars in February, 85 in January. For a little perspective: Mercedes has moved 17,906 cars in February, Audi 17,121 and BMW 16,700.

I’ve included Mirko’s gallery of cell-phone shots below. The one that struck me was the 65,000-Euro price tag for the M30d. The BMW 530d costs 49,500 Euro. Here in the Land Of The BK Broiler, we expect our Japanese aspirational sedans to be cheaper than the German competition. A lot cheaper. So, if I ran Infiniti of Germany, I’d drop the price into the cellar and lose money on every one for a decade if that’s what it takes to get the brand story out and build volume. If you don’t think Lexus did that when they priced the 1990 LS400 at $35,350, then as Axl Rose would say, you’re f*in’ crazy.

That’s my idea, but you guys aren’t the Best and Brightest for nothing. How would you fix the Infiniti sales problem? I’ll give the best answers to Mirko, who will use them to become the global director of Nissan, at which point he will promptly forget his promise to get me a Nissan Cube press car for weekend gigs.

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3 of 87 comments
  • George B George B on Mar 26, 2011
    How would you fix the Infiniti sales problem? Hot Asian women! All pictures of Japanese cars need to include beautiful models from the Far East. I'm sure Bertel could help point Infiniti in the right direction. The first product priority needs to be to make Infiniti pricing competitive with the German brands. The next is to attempt to adapt the G sedan and coupe to German punitive prices for gasoline. In addition to a diesel G, would it make sense to make a propane powered G37?

    • Mirko Reinhardt Mirko Reinhardt on Mar 26, 2011

      Interesting idea... Propane ("LPG") is cheap in Germany, so it would make the G37 cost per mile diesel-like. But propane conversions are something the average buyer thinks is for Dacias, Ladas and Chevrolets. Company car buyers want diesel, and that's the market you want to be in.

  • Kristjan Ambroz Kristjan Ambroz on Mar 29, 2011

    Being one of the tiny minority, who drives a Lexus in Germany, here's my perspective. When the car was bought, the level of service was exemplary and in terms of luxury offered for the price, the E Class my dad was driving at the time simply played in a much lower league. Sure, the diesel consumed a bit less fuel than the hybrid but then it was in a shop much of the time, something yet to befall the Lexus. The service experience in Austria, where it was regularly maintained, has been equally exemplary and leagues above anything the German competition offered. Same could be said of my experiences with it in the UK - and the dealer experience is certainly a factor (even if not the most important one) that can influence a car brand's success. Since moving to Germany this has all taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Booking a slot for fixing the recall work took 4 phone calls and 3 visits to the dealer - in my eyes a total disaster. When picking up the car, I got the keys and the message, it's somewhere in the back - nothing about what has been done, why, getting me to the car, etc. It was missing the front licence plate too, which they grudgingly located after an hour. While the car was there for the recall work, they miraculously also managed to unhinge some of the interior electronics (satnav, bluetooth, etc.), so I went back there for them to have a look at it (car is still under warranty). Sure thing, easy to do, have a seat, won't be a minute. Then the receptionist of all people disappeared with the car for two hours, noone knew where to, coming back saying it still does not work, here are the keys, thank you, goodbye. After another trip the satnav was easily fixed with a software update (why did noone think of it sooner), for the bluetooth issue I was told to get a different phone. I then had another sheduled maintainance trip there, with much the same experience. In all the times there noone has offered to show me any of the other cars, gauge my interest in buying another, show any enthusiasm for selling at all. In any case, if I consider this and their current lineup, I do not see myself thinking of another one soon. Sadly the dealer experience at most German 'premium' brands is not that much better - just had a friend, who is an executive in one of the large German companies trying to book a test drive at Mercedes - the salesman first asked, if he was personally known at the dealership, when he said he was not, he said they could book an interview first, where they would assess his suitability (I was in his car, while this conversation was taking place and could not believe it) - the car after all is expensive and they cannot just let people drive it. Luckily he was well known at the Audi dealership and could get a car there, without undergoing an interview procedure. Long story short, in contrast to the US, Lexus and Infinity dealerships are few and far between here and the maintenance costs are much higher than for a BMW, Audi or MB. If they are also similarly indifferent to their customers as the German brands, there really is not much of a reason to go for them (all arguments above), until the performance levels offered do not so spectacularly outperform the competition that they make them laughable (will hardly happen - even the GT-R, which for better or worse has no serious competition at its price point, sold a total of 83 times in Germany last year). But assuming they really want to make a splash, cheap leasing, much lower prices, longer service intervals (Lexus and Infinity have them twice as often as the German competition, at least in Europe), better presence (I work in the automotive industry and we are a big supplier to Renault-Nissan, and still I am pretty sure that not more than 1 or 2% of my coworkers ever heard of the brand) and very improtantly, cars designed for Europe, so small diesels, which work (none of the Lexus IS220d debacles)... And even with all that, getting to 10% of the volumes of one of Germany' big three luxury players will be a stretch.

  • 3SpeedAutomatic I drove a rental Renegade a few years back. Felt the engine (TIgerShark) was ready was ready to pop out from under the hood. Very crude!! Sole purpose was CAFE offsets. Also drove a V6 Cherokee which was very nice and currently out of production. Should be able to scoop up one at a fair deal.🚗🚗🚗
  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...