Interview: Infiniti's Roland Krüger
Infiniti was launched in 1989 in North America as Nissan’s premium brand at around the same time that Toyota launched Lexus as its premium brand. Yet while Lexus brought its model range to Europe 25 years ago, Infiniti held back, perhaps because of financial problems with its Nissan parent in the 1990s that brought about its rescue by Renault in 1999. It would be 2008 before Infiniti began rolling out its operation in Europe.
The company has pursued a strategy of separation from its Nissan roots for some years and Infiniti now operates from a head office in Hong Kong. The departure of Infiniti chairman Dr Andy Palmer, who had risen through the Nissan ranks to head up Aston Martin in the UK, created a vacancy at the top of the company in
September 2014. That was filled by Roland Krüger, who became Infiniti’s new President on 1 January 2015, having previously been a senior vice president at the BMW Group. He is one of the few motor industry leaders who began his career as a designer.
He took over at Infiniti as the company prepares to begin production in Europe at the Nissan Sunderland plant in the UK in 2016. The first European‐built Infiniti will be the production version of the Q30 concept, a C‐segment hatchback, first seen at the Frankfurt Show in 2013. The car is due to go on sale in the first half of 2016 and will be the first model to target a European mainstream segment. The Q30 will follow the launch of a car based on the Q60 concept, shown at the Detroit Show in January 2015. Q60 is a two‐door, 2+2 coupe and the production car is due to be launched at the Geneva Show in 2016.
The company revealed its latest concept, the QX30 crossover at the Geneva Show in March. The QX30 is based on the Q30 and is also due to join the Infiniti range during 2016.
How does Roland Krüger see Infiniti growing in Europe? “With the vehicles we see on our stand,” he told IFW, “Tapping into the compact SUV segment. At this point in time we don’t have a product in that segment, but the QX30 will give us that product.”
Krüger wouldn’t be drawn on whether the company should launch a smaller product than the Q30 or QX30 though. “I suggest we launch the cars first and get them right because there are two models the Q30 and the QX30 crossover and then we go from there. It is a very big step that we are taking.”
Discussing the decision to build the Q30 and QX30 in the UK at the Nissan plant, Krüger said that he thought it was important that Infiniti utilises the Renault‐Nissan Alliance network, where there is access to a supplier base.
“It’s important that we continue to utilise the alliance as the backbone and strength of Infiniti. That’s actually important to me,” he said, “At the same time, we have to make sure that the character of the car is maintained as a true Infiniti and that what we promote and market is a true product of Infiniti.” By “true Infiniti”, Krüger says that he is referring to the power delivery and driving dynamics of the car.
Alliance partners Nissan and Renault are both committed to EVs and Krüger believes that this is a path that Infiniti must also follow. “We have electrification in the cars and its very clear with all the development around the world that we cannot have a line‐up without electrification.
Will it be in every car all the time? Not necessarily. Look at Europe where there’s a diesel market. When we launch the Q30 and QX30 we will have diesel engines.”
Infiniti has a link with Formula 1 through the Red Bull team and Krüger thinks that this gives Infiniti an opportunity to engage with customers and dealers.
There is no shortage of premium brand competition for Infiniti and establishing a new brand was always going to be difficult. I asked Roland Krüger what
Infiniti offered customers that competitors do not, or what customers expected from Infiniti that they could not get from other brands. Krüger focussed on Infiniti design, “The design of our cars is outstanding,” he said, “There is a clear and unique design language. This is a differentiator in itself. Then of course we have the Infiniti heritage. We need to make sure that on the dealer side we offer superb service.
“This is how Infiniti started in the US. In 1989 the proposal was that we offered a pick up service for cars that was unheard of at the time. Of course later, MINI came in and copied that. What I want to say is that our understanding of customers is on another level. It’s one thing to know what we want in the product, but on the dealer side and with our business partners, we support many other services for our customers.”
Krüger recognises that brand awareness of Infiniti needs to be raised in Europe. It’s still not a brand that many potential customers recognise easily, partly because the dealer network is still quite small and the original Infiniti products which were designed for US consumers were not so well suited to European tastes. The arrival of products designed for European customers will doubtless help Infiniti’s progress.
I asked executive design director, Alfonso Albaisa how close the QX30 concept was to the production model.
“Every element that you see on the car is in the production version. We went nuts with the wheels. They’re a little big – about 20mm wider. But the character, the shades, the headlamps, the grille, the body section is all production.” Inside,
Albaisa says that the shape of the instrument panel is close, but the blue and brown leathers used in the trim will not be in the production car. As an entry level car, it won’t be as luxuriously trimmed as larger models.