Infiniti set to hit NZ roads via French connection?

Will Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, be represented by the interests who hold Renault distribution rights here?


SPECULATION that the local market representative of the French connection within the Renault-Nissan alliance is considering adding the Japanese side’s premium marque to its portfolio has surprised Nissan New Zealand and elicited an open-ended response from the brand in question.

Global Motors New Zealand Limited, a wholly New Zealand-owned and operated concern that has held the distribution rights for Renault here since 2014, is not responding to conjecture about its interest in distributing Infiniti vehicles.

A company whose directors – as with the hugely successful Hyundai New Zealand operation – include Giltrap and Spencer family members might well be particularly interested in Infiniti’s lifestyle model line, which is set to refresh and grow over the next 18 months.

Infiniti itself has not clarified one way or the other. The brand’s Hong Kong-based Asia and Oceania division was approached for comment. Managing director Dane Fisher, an Aucklander who came up through the Giltrap Group and held key roles before heading overseas, said “we constantly look at growth opportunities in new markets, including New Zealand, but we don’t have anything to announce at this point.”

Motoring Network was unable to contact Howard Spencer. Giltrap Group’s Richard Giltrap referred inquiry to Renault New Zealand boss Tom Griffiths, who also could not be reached despite repeated attempts.

Created by Nissan in 1989, the same year Toyota gave birth to Lexus, Infiniti is a luxury brand that stands as the only Japanese marque with an international presence never to have been officially represented in New Zealand.

The attraction of Infiniti is potentially that, in having created a selection of road cars, it is now looking to expand its portfolio of high-riding product.

 The healthy sales of crossovers and SUVs here would surely give hope that vehicles such as the current QX70, a compact QX30 being released regionally later this year plus at least one other car set to show in 2017 could be enough to warrant a brand presence.

Conjecture that Nissan New Zealand would have first dibs has been clarified.

Even though there is much cross-sharing of technology, parent brand Nissan considers Infiniti a wholly separate operation and that, in turn, affects international distribution arrangements.

“It is a separate brand … we don’t have distribution rights,” Nissan NZ managing director John Manley said.

He was surprised that Global Motors might have interest but said, if that was the case, they had his best wishes.

Infiniti already has a presence here as a used import offer and some brand-new cars were imported for a brand event in central Otago in 2012.

However that occasion was run by Infiniti Australia as a prelude to the marque’s relaunch across the Tasman that year, Manley reminded.

“We gave it a cursory glance when they held the Australian market pre-launch in Queenstown but that was it. We haven’t seriously considered it (selling Infiniti) ... we haven’t ever been asked to consider it.”

Infiniti has struggled to find full international potential. Lexus remains a barometer, not just for the quality of its product but also for customer service, and latterly it has been using Hyundai’s Genesis – which it regards as a competitor – as another measuring stick.

Our neighbour’s experience suggests it comes with pros and cons. Australia first took Infiniti in 1993 but pulled out in 1997 because brand penetration was poor.

It returned five years later and continued to struggle, citing a limited model range, low brand awareness, marginal dealer representation and the German brands’ domination of the Australian prestige car landscape as being particular impediments.

Nonetheless, it has slowly been gaining ground. Though it sold just 574 cars across the Tasman in 2015, this nonetheless still resounded as a sales peak for Australia, being a lift of more than 30 percent over the 2014 count. 

When gathering home market media in February this year to view the refreshed edition of a mainstay sedan, the Q70, Nissan Australia managing director Jean-Philippe Roux announced he was “stomping on the gas pedal” with a fresh product roll-out and dealer expansion programme.

Infiniti’s next new model is its first small car in two variations - a Q30 hatchback road car and a QX30 crossover.

The first examples of a technology-sharing agreement with Daimler, these establish on a platform developed for the Mercedes-Benz GLA crossover. Q30 is front drive and designed to compete with the Lexus CT hatch, Audi's A3 Sportback, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. QX30 is all-wheel-drive and has a higher ground clearance.

Also arriving across the Tasman this year is a highly anticipated coupe, the new-generation Q60 coupe revealed at the Detroit motor show in January. Our neighbour takes this model in November.

Last arriving for the year is an updated Q50 sedan – including a 300kW sports sedan model. It is scheduled for December delivery.

Further in the future, Infiniti is thought to be preparing a new-generation version of two crossovers, the five-seater QX50 and the QX60 seven-seat model.

Fisher, who held important roles with Porsche and Audi for Giltrap Group, ultimately as Audi NZ general manager, before heading to Italy and Lamborghini in 2012 (helping create its Super Trofeo motorsports programme among other duties), has been in his Infiniti position since 2014. He was upbeat about its future.

“Infiniti is currently enjoying strong growth both from a global and regional perspective with global sales over 200,000 units for the first time … and 22 percent growth in the Asia and Oceania region for 2015,” he said.

Fisher has responsibility for eight countries, including Australia.