Interview: Francois Goupil de Bouillé of Infiniti
Infiniti, originally the luxury division of Nissan was launched in 1989 in North America. It was 2008 before the company thought the time was right for a European launch but without diesel engines, appeal was limited until those options became available.
We have had to wait until this year for models that can make an impact in the mainstream European sectors – the C-segment hatchback and crossover/SUV – as Infiniti brings both the Q30 and QX30 to market. The car is based on the Mercedes-Benz AClass platform with a range of Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler powertrain options.
François Goupil de Bouillé, Vice President of Europe, Middle East and South Africa is responsible for fleet business in the region. “One thing we are proud of is that we presented the prototype and now we have presented the final car and it is very close to the prototype,” he says, “This is also a promise that we want to make to the customer that when we show something, we want it to become reality.
“With those products, we have volume products; the Q30 and QX30 that are targeting what we call the C-premium, the mid-size premium market, which is the biggest in Europe and what is fantastic about this market is that it is growing.
The premium market is growing but this mid-size premium market is growing faster than the market. We are coming to market at the right moment and we have tried to come with something different, we don’t want to copy anyone.
“Infiniti means different design, it’s a reference of a sort to our Japanese origin. We can go to the customer and tell them that we have something different and new.”
At the Geneva Show this year Infiniti also launched the Q60 Sport Coupe and revised Q50 saloon. “With the Q60, this is different. It is not a volume car, it’s a ‘halo’ car,” says de Bouillé, “When you are premium, you need to have this kind of product.”
According to de Bouillé, Infiniti wants to position itself as a premium brand but with volume sales, “So we will also have to become a volume fleet premium manufacturer. We have already made quite a lot of progress. We have been successful with the Q50. For instance if you go to Paris you will see quite a lot of Infinitis. We are also starting to make some progress in the UK, which is the big fleet market. The Q30 and QX30 will definitely be a much more credible entry for fleet business.”
Fleet business is likely to be important for the two C-segment models, particularly with the strength of the SUV and crossover markets worldwide. Infiniti has a strategy for its fleet business and de Bouillé says that results so far are better than expected,
“Our strategy is to go to the big fleets and say that we do not have the brand awareness or image of some of our competitors, but we would like to see if our products would interest your user-choosers.
“Then what we try to do is have say three cars and be modest and see how the drivers react. And guess what? The reaction in fleets is the same as it is among private buyers. A minority of fleet customers are user-choosers, but it’s quite a big minority. They are not conservative though – conservatives are those who will remain with their current brand and we cannot chase everyone.
“They are looking for something different, but they need something credible. We can match the quality requirement. We are investing in the fact that we are different. We have some fleet customers where we came with one, two or three cars as I said and now they have 50 cars or 60 cars running, because we can attract customers who are looking for something different.”
Building a brand identity, particularly for a new manufacturer wanting to establish a premium image is difficult in a crowded marketplace. Nissan has a strong brand image, particularly with fleet managers, where products like Qashqai have such a good reputation. How can Infiniti build on that reputation and also establish its own brand identity?
Alliance premium brand
“We work very closely with our Alliance colleagues, both Nissan and Renault,” says de Bouillé, “It’s a win-win situation for a very simple reason. Fleet customers have several needs and may also need some premium cars. By having a premium brand, the Alliance can answer all customer needs. If you cannot offer a premium brand, another manufacturer will come and make the offer instead. That’s life. We always say that Infiniti is the premium brand of the Alliance and we are working very closely with Renault and Nissan and have had some success, for instance with big fleets already.”
That suggests that there is already a Renault-Nissan- Infiniti Group fleet operation. “The first thing we are looking at is to locate them together,” says de Bouillé, “We are calling it the co-operation system, which means we co-operate in everything that we do. If we think about international key accounts, national key accounts, leasing companies, rental companies, it’s an asset for us to approach the business as the other brand of the Alliance.
“Even with B2B business where it is smaller volumes, we could have for instance, one of our colleagues in Renault, or in Nissan who has a B2B customer and he is looking for one car, possibly a Q70 or something similar. As we are locating the fleet teams in the same place, then the communication can be very fast. We are really trying to establish an Alliance team mindset and with several key accounts to get a systematic Alliance approach to the customer, but there is still a lot to do.”
Infiniti is working with SCI leasing as a partner on ‘white label’ products. “Through them we have contact with other companies for specific products such as insurance,” continues de Bouillé, “We are making good progress on that, although we are not at the same level in all countries. In France SCI is very strong but we also have a very efficient cooperation with AXA. There are still a lot of opportunities to tackle and we will make it.”