By on May 23, 2019


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.

Image: Infiniti

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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25 Comments on “Job One for Infiniti’s New U.S. Sales Boss? Stop the Slide...”

  • avatar

    Step 1: Redesign everything.

  • avatar

    I’m going to comment here.
    I just helped my wife pick up a 2013 JX35 (earlier name for a QX60 as I have learned.)
    I was happy to do so. I’m a car enthusiast and continue to be so, but she wanted a nice 3 row luxury vehicle and we got her one. (with a 4 year powertrain warranty for when that tranny goes….cuase we all know it WILL.)

    But I like the vehicle for what it is. It’s a luxury 3 row SUV/cross-over/thing.
    I know there are tons on the road, I know its a Pathfinder, but it works for what it is. It drives great for her. And thats what i wanted.

    I’m not sure what Infiniti needs to do long term to fix itself, (besides some real transmission soul-searching) but the designs are right where the market is for these things. I might not like the products, but PLENTY of suburbanites do.

  • avatar

    My wife has 2014 Infiniti Q60 (aka G37 with a different badge) and she LOVES it. She test drove comparable vehicles from BMW, Audi and Benz, but picked the fancy Nissan. Her previous car was a Volvo, another “near” luxury brand. The step up to the Germans didn’t seem worth the money, especially the Benz which we both hated almost immediately. Not sure why Infiniti’s don’t sell better. Their line up is pretty small, but it covers your basic coupe, sedan, CUV, SUV and most have AWD options.

    • 0 avatar

      That 2014 vintage of Q60/G37 was Peak Value Infiniti. They were trying to offload their last remaining inventory to make way for the upcoming Q50s (but surrendering to dealers still clamoring for the popular G37 body style). Many dealers at the time were selling them for $32k new. That’s a tremendous value.

  • avatar

    I root for Infiniti. The 2003 G35 was a miraculous car, I still remember the first time I ever saw it in the pages of a magazine. It was a bargain, a hoot, and is still one of my absolute favorite modern car designs. I hope they can somehow channel that spirit again.

    • 0 avatar

      The G35 coupe, in particular (more sensuous sheetmetal than the 4-door).

      Only real knock on the G35 at the time was the chinzy interior.

      The G37 was a step backwards in design.

  • avatar

    job #1 for all luxury brands is to define their value proposition.

    What do you get when you buy an Infiniti that you can’t get from Nissan?

    From the manufacturer side, we know the answer: higher margins!

    But for the buyer, what do you get if you pay extra? Different sheet metal? More leather inside? Is that really enough to provide value when you increase the price of the car?

    The only expensive-car company for which I have a satisfactory answer is Tesla. You get a future-tech drivetrain now, and all you have to do is write a check that’s twice the size as the one you would write for an old-tech car (Civic / Model 3, Odyssey / Model X).

    I don’t have an answer for Infiniti. But coming up with the answer is their job, not mine. Please tell me the answer!

  • avatar

    I live in a somewhat upscale bedroom community and the Infinity dealer has picked up the animal habit (see the duck article above, he’s using a dog), and while the Lexus and Acura dealerships move the iron as well as the Tesla joint, I don’t understand the long-term goals of the upscale nameplates. I’ve owned a couple of Lexuses (Lexi?) and while I enjoyed the awesome breakfast while I was getting overcharged for my service, do these manufacturers believe there will continue to be a steady stream of customers once the CUV/ SUV trend wears off?

    I guess I’m just a grumpy old man and aren’t getting the fat bonuses anymore to pay the premium, but it kinda seems like they could put the same cars out there without having a completely different sales channel. If it’s profitable, that’s cool, but I can’t believe all of them are making big $$.

    Edit: Luke42 I think we are saying the same thing.

  • avatar

    I wonder why Infiniti is not popular world-wide. It is a cheap luxury and most world population is poor and cannot afford German cars.

  • avatar
    Michael S6

    Drove a 2003 G35 for 5 years and a 2008 G35 AWD for 8 years. Great cars although reliability was average and maintenance costs were high. When the Q50 came out with it’s drive by wire steering I said goodbye and no thanks.
    For high value sports sedan Genesis is a much better brand for driving enjoyment and reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      FWIW, Edmunds has a QX50 in their long-term fleet, and they hate driving it. They are usually pretty generous/kind with their criticisms, but comments like this are deadly:

      “But poor transmission calibration and overly artificial steering feel make for a not-good driving experience, and no one really wants to drive the thing. It’s still useful for moderate cargo loads: clearing out the garage, bringing things home from the big-box store, a large Craigslist find, maybe. But that’s about the only redeeming quality we’re finding with the QX these days.”

  • avatar

    Just traded in a G37 that I had for 7 years. It was the most reliable car I’ve owned – only thing was squeaking when the outside temperature was low. It has never been worked on outside of fluid changes. It was either this or a CPO 335. Good thing I didn’t step on that head gasket landmine. The G37 had at least 80% of the BMW’s driving dynamics with none of the maintenance/repair costs (only changing oil, brake fluid, rear diff, and engine/cabin air filters – all easily done at home). The only regret would be the BMW’s awesome sports seats.

  • avatar

    Redesign the outside, and that will get people into the showrooms. The big grills, slash and gash, fake vents styling is getting old. Beautiful and not necessarily gimmicky interiors, plus intuitive electronics – Hyundai seems to have everyone else beat on this. How hard can it be to test and develop this stuff, rather than releasing obsolete and buggy infotainment systems?

  • avatar

    A quick search at Infiniti and BMW corporate websites finds the Q50 and QX50 leasing at $379 a month with $4200 to $6000 down, about the same monthly payment as a new 3 series or X3 that come with a slightly lower down payment. I think most people are going to go with the BMW when leasing, since reliability concerns are irrelevant, BMW brand prestige is higher, and BMW dealer network is more intensive.

    • 0 avatar

      Usually can get a better lease deal on the Q50 – which is why Infiniti moves as many Q50’s as it does.

    • 0 avatar

      You can routinely lease a Q50 for $0 down and around $350/month.

      I leased a Q50 39 months/12k a year for $0 down and $331 a month. And not a stripped model, either, it was a V6 with premium package and nav.

      They lease dirt cheap and are an excellent value. When my lease was up I ended up switching brands, though, because the 2019 Q50 is literally the same car introduced in 2014, horrible infotainment and all, and I didn’t want that for another three years.

      But given that a well equipped Infiniti Q50 leases for less than a well equipped Camry, Accord or even Civic, it’s no wonder it’s the third best selling luxury sedan despite its flaws.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Infiniti needs to talk to your wife. She is the kind of person they need to win over.

    • 0 avatar

      Your wife is smart because Infiniti is Nissan. I know that because I’ve been in Nissan HQ and not once and they have only Nissans on display and some of them are identical to Infinitis sold in US.

    • 0 avatar

      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).

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