"It took us 25 years to bring Audi back in the US. This kind of thing takes a long time."

When Johan De Nysschen left his post at Audi of America last year to take the seemingly thankless job of leading Infiniti's global operations, it seemed like a familiar scenario. Like Michael Dukakis going from one of two men that could have won the White House to teaching political science at an obscure Florida college.

De Nysschen was a key architect in rebuilding Audi in the US, from a punchline about "sudden acceleration" in the 1980s, to being a truly hot brand and legitimately vying with BMW and Mercedes-Benz for one-percenters' German car bucks. In talking about his task at Infiniti with me, he repeated a line that I wonder if he mentioned to Nissan-Renault honcho Carlos Ghosn at the hiring meeting: "It took us 25 years to bring Audi back in the US. This kind of thing takes a long time."
What's he up to? On the surface, Nissan has made a few moves to get Infiniti its own identity within the company. The organization moved from Tokyo to Hong Kong and registered a new company ID: The Infiniti Global Ltd. When he got there, he said, "The cupboard was emptier than I knew." So De Nysschen is also directing the new product plan, as well as asking ad agency TBWA/Chiat Day to put together a walled-off agency for his brand, rather than having the agency divide teams for both Nissan and Infiniti.

Nissan has made moves to get Infiniti its own identity within the company.

On the hardware front, Infiniti will employ a high-performance four-cylinder engine from Daimler by way of an alliance between Nissan-Renault and the German automaker. And it will also get a vehicle platform from Daimler that Infiniti and Nissan are co-developing – an arrangement that is similar to the alliance Volkswagen has with Porsche for the Cayenne and Touareg.

What did he tell Ghosn was his recipe for fixing the 23-year-old brand? "We have to have our own powertrains, our own designs, our own identity. You can't run a premium brand like you run a mass-market brand." His goal before he packs it in? "To be accepted into the club of global luxury car brands."

Infiniti plans to reach 500,000 sales by 2017.

Sales target? Fasten your seat belt. Though Infiniti sold fewer than 200,000 globally in 2012, the former Audi US chief says he plans to reach 500,000 sales by 2017. Granted, he says, a big chunk of that will come from China. Still, we are reminded of what the kidnapper told Liam Neeson in Taken when he warned the bad guy not take his daughter: "Good luck."

Infiniti's global ambitions are just that. More than half the company's sales are in the US, though it is sold in 15 countries with just 230 dealers. There has been a long established pattern of cars that are sold as up-market Nissans in Japan sold as Infinitis elsewhere.

One of the first marketing measures De Nysschen tackled was model naming. He has ditched the haphazard nomenclature of the G, M, J and FX for a new system going forward, whereby all sedans and coupes will be called Q – as in the new Q50, which is the updated G37. All crossovers and SUVs wil be called QX followed by a double digit number.

He has ditched the haphazard nomenclature of the G, M, J and FX for a new system going forward.

Ironically, back in the 1990s, De Nysschen had to meet with Infiniti officials to discuss a beef over model naming because Infiniti had the Q prefix, and Audi wanted to use it for what became the Q3, Q5, Q7, etc. The compromise was that Audi would have to stop at Q9, and Infiniti, he says, will use Q and QX followed by double-digit numbers.

Yeah... that ought to be clear to everyone.

So, Infiniti has had one consistently praised model, the G, which is also the only model prefix with any name recognition associated with Infiniti. And he scrapped it as first order of business?

Lest we think De Nysschen is a bit mad or a masochist, we should remember that Liam Neeson did actually get his daughter back in Taken after killing, like, a hundred Albanian bad guys, and suffering only a shoulder wound and a gimpy leg.


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  • 68 Comments
      Leonard Woolsey
      • 1 Year Ago
      the brand awareness / accumulated value accumulated by the 'G-series' is going to be difficult to replicate. the naming convention conveyed quality, performance and value for those who did not wish to drive a german model -- something earned over time, not purchased with advertising dollars. if anything, the G is most valuable naming asset in the entire infiniti line. talk about going back to square one...
        bluemoonric
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Leonard Woolsey
        About as stupid as throwing away the name Datsun and spending 20 years trying to build brand awareness for the name Nissan. While Toyota kicked their butt, I might add.
        djezbe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Leonard Woolsey
        I second this. They spent 12 years of branding the \"G\" name and then dump it for the new nomenclature. The original \"Q\" was actually a really good car, but has been out of production for quite some time. Ford made a similar mistake when they dropped the Taurus name in favor of the \"500\" and we all know what happend there. I really think this is a big mistake!!!!
      Mr E
      • 1 Year Ago
      Maybe this guy knows his stuff, but I just can't get behind someone that pushes such a dumb and confusing naming convention as their first order of business.The names ain't the problem, bub.
      LifeLongCarGuy
      • 1 Year Ago
      I agree with everyone who said that branding is not Infiniti's problem. In my opinion, the problem is Infiniti's recent design language. The engines are great. The interiors are nice. The exterior designs are polarizing, especially the crossovers and SUV. The G is the best car in the line-up. It also happens to be the entry level vehicle, and the most successful. Why? Value and all around good looks. I own a 08 G coupe (Sport) and when I bought it, I cross shopped the A5 coupe and the 335 coupe. Both very nice cars, but for the money? The G was hard to beat. Whatever Infiniti decides, it should maintain it's value proposition. I also agree that 25 years is too long. A 10 year line-up turnaround is probably more reasonable. Look at what Hyundai was able to do in 10 years. Infiniti did hit the mark on the new design language. I like the Q50 and can't wait to see the Q60 (coupe). For my financial stake, I hope it's not jaw dropping. I would like to keep my G, and my money. The new naming convention? I think this is just the new guy trying to make his marque on the brand, early. Perhaps he's taking a page from BMW's playbook. Remember, they too have a pending name change. The 4 Series (3 Series coupe)? Really?! Not so long ago you could tell a lot about a car by the name. 3 (series), 30 (3.0 litre engine). G (series), 37 (3.7 litre engine). That is, and will no longer be true. It reminds me of when Acura ultimately renamed the Legend to RL. It was all downhill from there. Let's hope De Nyscchen is right about Infiniti's future. The brand and his name is depending on it.
      Jonathan
      • 1 Year Ago
      .... Come back to where? They've come a long way from their clearly re-badged Nissan products. I thought Infiniti was doing pretty well. If anyone needs a come back plan, it's Acura.
      Mike
      • 1 Year Ago
      This guy is claiming credit for Audi's success, but we all know it's the product that saved Audi. I can't think of an Audi ad unless it featured their awesome race car (or the dumb vampire super bowl spot that I would prefer to forget). Joel Ewanick left Hyundai and took credit for their success, and now we see that Hyundai continues to grow while GM marketing struggles with and now without his leadership. Good luck Johan.
      • 1 Year Ago
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        kesando
        • 1 Year Ago
        As for competing with the IS, isnt that what the Q50 is doing?
        Tourian
        • 1 Year Ago
        A replacement M? You mean the car that was just redesigned completely for 2011? You're already tired of it? Be serious. It was the G that was getting old. The M is fine. But they are going to have to bring back the "Q" as in the full size range topper to be taken seriously. I really don't think they need a car smaller then the what "G" has become, but looks like there is a Sentra based car in the works.
          Perplexed-Sausage
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Tourian
          i agree the M is not good enough it wants to be a large car but the interior is cramped. it wants to be sporty but the sport suspension does not even make it corner better it just rides too harshly. the v6 does not cut the mustard for a car in this class (same engine thats on the maxima) and 5k extra for the v8 is laughable. style wise it is very atractive but it only comes in 5 or 6 colors!
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Tourian
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      Quest
      • 1 Year Ago
      "It took us 25 years to bring Audi back in the US. This kind of thing takes a long time." ________________________________ This the kind of thinking needed at GM and to a lesser degree Ford, especially with Lincoln. Chryco is European now so... Basically, if the last four years improvement in sales - especially for Ford - and/or improvement in Brand perception is going to be more than just a temporary blip on the radar screen the above line of thinking is going to have to be ingrained. The jury is still out, especially in regards to GM which continues to lose marketshare.
        kcroc10077
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Quest
        "This the kind of thinking needed at GM..." Couldn't agree more.
      Max Felony
      • 1 Year Ago
      A 25 year turnaround is an awfully long time to tell investors to wait. Infiniti isn't considered a 'bad' brand, but rather irrelevant in the public's eye. The turnaround should take far less time than Audi's if there's a real commitment to developing compelling products buyers want. The naming convention is an exercise of how not to start the turnaround.
      Copperhead
      • 1 Year Ago
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=RJcwGgQ3P3M The tech in the 2014 Q50 looks really good.
      throwback
      • 1 Year Ago
      Cadillac and Lincoln need to realize how long it took for Audi to get where they are. As for the naming convention, looks like they are following Lincoln's naming convention where every vehicle starts with MK.
      Ryan
      • 1 Year Ago
      He says that the cupboard is bare, but I remember a time when Infiniti was that laughing stock of the luxury Marques (a title that Acura now holds). With the introduction of the G35, Infiniti gained a lot of credibility and built off that with the coupe as well as a handsome. So while the brand isn't completely devoid of cache it seems a little... Stale. The Q50 looks promising and let's see how the rest of the lineup shakes out.
      Basil Exposition
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Comeback" implies a once lofty position. Maybe come-up would be more appropriate for Infiniti?
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