As Infiniti peddled lukewarm products, Mark Igo kept dealers focused on better days to come
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1983
Role: General manager, Infiniti Division
Key influence: Guided Infiniti dealers through brand's shift to rear-drive performance models
Igo, general manager of Infiniti since 2003, kept the division's business humming smoothly through a touchy period. Nissan overhauled Infiniti's product lineup, repositioned its marketing and left dealers without new products for more than a year.
During the transformation, Igo's challenge was to keep dealers confident in what Infiniti was to become — a marque of exclusively rear-drive performance vehicles. Infiniti's lineup was mainly a hodgepodge of reworked Japan-market models with no clear brand identity.
Today, Infiniti has almost the same dealer roster it had earlier in the decade when the changes started. And it now sells more than 125,000 vehicles a year, compared with about 71,000 in 2001.
Getting to the current comfort level involved a lot of dealer meetings.
“I met with dealers a lot, often one on one,” recalls Igo, a sandy-haired Hoosier who spent most of his career calling on retailers at Ford Motor Co. and Nissan. “They were always pressing us for a return to old products, like the QX4.”
Infiniti launched in 1989 in a bid to match Honda Motor Co.'s luxury foray with Acura and Toyota Motor Corp.'s entry with Lexus. But by the 1990s, the increasingly cash-strapped Nissan Motor Co. was handing me-too cars to its U.S.-only Infiniti franchise.
“In the "90s, we were searching,” Igo, now 50, concedes. “We were just trying to fill gaps. We had some interesting cars — the J30, the M30 convertible — and they looked good. But there was no consistency. There was no clear definition of who we were.”
The arrival of CEO Carlos Ghosn in 1999, along with new global design chief Shiro Nakamura, put a stop to that. But the resulting changes would spell turmoil at the dealerships.
“The volume products before were the QX4 SUV and the I35,” Igo notes. “And I had to tell dealers that we were moving away from those products, that we were serious about remaking our brand identity.
“There was some nervousness. The new designs were very polarizing. Some dealers felt the new G35 was too small. They wanted their old products. I had to tell them, "That's not going to happen.' “
Now, the lineup has gained traction. Moreover, Infiniti's transformation included a plan to sell vehicles around the world for the first time, entering Korea in 2005 and Europe this year. The globalization will make it easier to give U.S. dealers small-volume niche models that would have been cost-prohibitive before.
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