How BMW and Audi helped bring Mercedes and Infiniti closer together

Douglas A. Bolduc is a special correspondent for Automotive News Europe
Having BMW and Audi as common rivals made it easier for Infiniti's and Mercedes-Benz's parents to form an alliance earlier this month.

"There is cross-shopping between Infiniti and the other German brands but not with Mercedes so we feel really at ease," about the two premium brands working together, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said after his French and Japanese carmakers joined hands with Daimler April 7.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche added: "That is the beauty of the cooperation. We found that our people are very open to sharing information because they are not afraid of it coming back into the marketplace" as something they have to compete against.

Mercedes and Infiniti can work together because Mercedes sells twice as many vehicles in the United States as Infiniti (50,590 vs. 23,694 in the first quarter) and because Infiniti was launched across Europe just two years ago.

Had they been bitter premium-car rivals, there is no way Mercedes would have agreed to provide Infiniti with a core technology such as its gasoline and diesel engines.

Now those engines – especially the diesels – will help Infiniti better compete against BMW and Audi in Europe, where every conquest sale will be as much as victory for Daimler as it is for Infiniti.

Zetsche also gave an indication that the Infiniti-Mercedes cooperation could affect plans to deepen ties with BMW when he said: "We are very well positioned with large passenger cars in the premium segment. On that side, it is not a strategic need but its cream on top if we can find some components you can do together with a similar partner."

Zetsche added that parts-sharing plans with BMW are "moving forward very positively."

But one has to wonder how interested BMW will be in cooperating with Mercedes when the work could help not one, but two rivals.