New Infiniti N.A. chief sees positive trend

Vehicle-sales growth outpacing competitors

Parker: The Q50 is getting positive reactions

NASHVILLE — May brought Infiniti only a modest uptick in U.S. sales, but Infiniti’s North American chief will take it.

“We want things to get moving in the right direction,” says Randy Parker, who was named Infiniti Americas vice president in February after a year of sluggish results. “Getting where we want to be is going to happen one step at a time.”

May’s step forward was a 17 percent sales improvement for the Q50 sedan, a 2-year-old model that has won acclaim from owners and the media, but Infiniti has had trouble spinning it into volume growth. The Q50 posted 3,423 sales in May, compared to 2,938 a year earlier. The Q50 also increased 14 percent in April from a year earlier.

“We have new products coming up next year,” says Parker, who was tapped for the job after working as vice president of the Nissan brand’s 12-state West region. “We’ve been a little quiet in recent months. But if you haven’t noticed, we’re playing the underdog right now. Some of our portfolio is older and will be phasing out.”

As a whole, Infiniti brand sales rose 1 percent to 10,474 vehicles in May. Parker, 48, a former General Motors and General Motors Acceptance Corp. manager who joined Nissan in April 2013, says Infiniti will work on “improving our blocking and tackling, doing better marketing and making sure our dealers have the tools they need to get better.”

Infiniti delivered less than a 1 percent sales increase in 2014, despite a booming luxury segment. Audi increased by 15 percent last year, Lexus by 14 percent, Porsche by 11 and BMW by 10.

But so far this year, Infiniti’s car sales are outperforming the luxury market. Infiniti cars have increased 5 percent through May, compared to year-earlier levels, and compared to a 4.4 percent increase for the entire luxury-car segment.

Two new products are coming in the next 10 months. The new compact five-door Q30 will come to dealerships late this year, with a Daimler-designed 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Early next year, dealers will receive a redesigned Q60 coupe, based on the Q50.

“Our plan at Infiniti until then will be to focus on our strengths — on our core models, including the Q50 sedan and the QX80 SUV,” Parker told Automotive News. “We want to concentrate on getting the right product to our dealers when they need it.”

Parker said he believes the Q50’s gains are being helped by its new TV ad campaign. The ad shows a man reading a newspaper in the back seat of a Q50 while it speeds down the highway. In a poke at the public’s rising fascination with autonomous driving, the voiceover says, “If you’re looking for a car that drives you, and takes the wheel right from your very hands, this isn’t that car.”

The man then steps out of the moving Q50 and the camera reveals it has been riding on top of a vehicle carrier. He climbs into the driver seat and backs the car off of the carrier to speed past the truck.

The TV spot says something Infiniti has been trying to say for the past two years — that it is worthy of consideration by performance enthusiasts who might be drawn to such brands as BMW and Audi.

Parker says that consumers have a positive reaction to seeing the Q50 — and that means Infiniti will be trying to put it in front of more people this year.

“It won’t be a matter of spending more on advertising,” he says. “It’s a matter of making sure that we’re visible wherever our customers are watching. If they’re on the air, we want to be there.”

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.


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