Dealers get a look at what de Nysschen had up his sleeve

Johan's gone but his Infiniti plan stands

Dealers get a look at what de Nysschen had up his sleeve

“Andy [Palmer] showed the dealers exactly what we have in the pipeline and what the cadence will be out to 2018.” -- Michael Bartsch, Infiniti's vice president for North America
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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Infiniti is reassuring U.S. dealers that its product expansion plans are on track, despite the defection of their chief architect, Johan de Nysschen, this summer.

The U.S. national dealer advisory board flew to Japan this month to meet with Andy Palmer, Nissan Motor Corp.'s global product development head and acting Infiniti boss. There they got confirmation firsthand that a rush of new cars, crossovers, engines and transmissions is coming through the end of this decade.

"Andy showed the dealers exactly what we have in the pipeline and what the cadence will be out to 2018," said Michael Bartsch, Infiniti's vice president for North America. "He gave them a face-to-face commitment that all the plans and strategies Johan laid out remain a commitment."

Matt Gunderson, owner of Infiniti of Mission Viejo, south of Los Angeles, and current chairman of the Infiniti Nation-al Dealer Advisory Board, says the visit had a calming effect.

"There was some concern in the dealer body that we might see a recalibration of Johan's vision since he left," Gunderson says. "But they told us what we hoped to hear -- that the plans remain on track.

"They even took us to the design center to show us future product that is way past the point of changing their mind."

De Nysschen stepped down as Infiniti president in July after just two years to become president of General Motors' Cadillac division in Detroit. He had wowed the global dealer body with an approved plan to overhaul Infiniti's product line, starting in 2015.

They include a 60 percent increase in the number of models by the end of this decade to eight sedans and coupes and five crossovers and SUVs. The plan also calls for doubling of the number of engines and transmissions during that period. Much of it comes through a growing product-sharing relationship with Daimler AG.

Bartsch, whom de Nysschen recruited from Porsche North America last year, says the most frequently asked question he has been getting is: "Where do we go without Johan?"

"We are locked in, and the course is being held exactly as it was left by Johan," Bartsch said during the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance weekend.

"Johan left a very strong legacy with his signature on it," he said. "But it's a strategy that is endorsed by Carlos Ghosn and supported and pushed by Andy Palmer. They were the drivers of the vision of creating a luxury brand within the Nissan group.

"It's a strategy that is not owned by one person. Johan left us in a very strong position that will carry on."

Meanwhile, Bartsch says no decision has been reached on whether to green-light one new model -- the proposed 560-hp Q50 Eau Rouge Concept performance vehicle. -If it is built, the low-volume Eau Rouge would be an addition to Infiniti's other new-product plans.

During the weekend of luxury car showings on California's Monterey Peninsula, Bartsch accepted four sales orders from show attendees for the Formula One-inspired Eau Rouge.

"Four orders aren't going to cause us to go ahead with the car," he said, "but it shows you the level of excitement it's getting from people."

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.


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