Job One for Infiniti's New U.S. Sales Boss? Stop the Slide

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
job one for infinitis new u s sales boss stop the slide

Amid a tumultuous time for Nissan and its luxury division, Infiniti, company CEO Hiroto Saikawa is counting on its crucial U.S. business to turn things around. After seeing its global profit fall 45 percent last year, Saikawa declared earlier this month that the company had hit “ rock bottom.”

Further profit and operating margin declines are forecasted for 2019.

Executive shuffling has become the norm as the automaker attempts to stem sales losses in the United States. Lofty volume targets of yesteryear have given way to an approach focused on long-term stability. Still, a turnaround won’t happen overnight.

One man Saikawa is counting on is Infiniti’s new sales boss, Bob Welby, who takes over the position June 1st.

On Wednesday, the automaker named Welby as senior director of operations for Infiniti’s U.S. business. In this role, Welby, currently director of chief marketing management, will oversee sales channels, training, model line management, pricing, and incentives. He takes over from (and reports to) Jeff Pope, who moved from that position to group vice president of Infiniti Americas last month.

As you may have heard, Infiniti isn’t all that big elsewhere in the world. The U.S. accounts for 70 percent of the brand’s global sales volume, and volume is falling.

After seeing its U.S. sales rise, year over year, since 2013, Infiniti’s fortunes fell in 2018. Sales dropped 2.7 percent, led by a 15.7 percent decline in passenger car volume. Despite the recent addition of a next-generation crossover with an innovative engine (QX50), the first four months of 2019 saw the brand fall a further 14.1 percent, with both car and light trucks sales taking a dive.

While sales of the just-released QX50 were strong last fall (the model ended the year up 50.6 percent), the first four months of 2019 saw demand cool off. The model’s actually down 7.3 percent, year to date. Only the recently refreshed QX80 and aging QX60 SUVs show any buoyancy so far this year.

Saikawa knows the turnaround won’t be swift. “We are trying to enhance overall brand value. That is a big piece of homework,” he said in February.

The pressure to stimulate volume with incentives and fleet sales, a practice Nissan clamped down on last year (leading total vehicle sales to fall 6.2 percent), will be high. And it may be happening already. At the end of April, ALG estimated incentive spending at Nissan rose 14 percent for the month — a sharp contrast to the overall industry’s 4.2 percent decline. Sales to rental fleets were expected to rise, and indeed, the results for April show a 10.7 percent year-over-year sales increase for the Nissan brand. (Note: last April was a particularly poor sales month for the brand.)

Unlike Nissan, however, Infiniti is not a rental lot darling. It needs to rope in individuals straying to other premium marques in order to boost its standing. That responsibility falls on Welby.

[Image: Matthew Guy/TTAC]

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  • Stodge Stodge on May 24, 2019

    I'm probably in the minority but I really like the Q50 Hybrid. I almost bought a used one but I couldn't afford one that wasn't too old or with high mileage and the trunk was just a touch too small for my family. I actually like the Q50 in general, but I'm weird that way.

  • Drockman Drockman on May 24, 2019

    I'm on my second Infiniti and am (one of the few) fans of the brand. But, they have some clear problems to fix. After 9 years with my '09 EX35 I moved over to a used 2015 Q40. I stayed away from the new QX50 and the Q50 because of the terrible steering. I guess it is their drive by wire system, but whatever it is, when the steering wheel moves in your hands for no apparent reason, and not in response to actual road conditions, it is decidedly unpleasant. Hard to have any confidence in driving a car when you not only lack confidence in handling and road feel, but where the car is designed to give you random unnecessary and irrelevant feedback. Beyond that, their marketing needs a lot of work. My wife hates that I got another Infiniti, and in her mind it is not a premium brand. She bases this on nothing other than the vague consumer impressions of someone who doesn't otherwise care anything about cars. In her mind, Infiniti is barely different from Nissan, Honda and Toyota.

    • See 2 previous
    • Bd2 Bd2 on May 28, 2019

      The Infiniti models that are sold in Japan are sold as Nissans (and sometimes as rebadged Mitsus), but that's the same for Acura and use to be the case for Lexus as well. Infiniti, Lexus and Acura (and now Genesis) are just separate sales distribution networks. In Japan, Toyota sells a lot more higher-end RWD lux sedans (Crown series) than does Lexus (which doesn't sell many of the LS or GS).

  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.