Infiniti Chairman Andy Palmer is working to reposition the brand as a design- and technology-driven alternative to Germany's premium automakers.
Palmer discussed Infiniti's future with Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri.
Q: Why should a customer buy an Infiniti?
A: [It is] something that is different, personalized and provocative. If you look at the millennial generation, what we call Gen Y [people born roughly between 1982 and 2003], they don't want to drive a car that their father drove.
What does Gen Y want from a car?
They do not buy a standard car off the shelf anymore, even in the volume segment. That's what is driving Nissan Juke, Citroen DS or Fiat 500 sales. Everybody wants a personalized car. Now, in the premium space, they have a choice of essentially three manufacturers [Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz]. You can argue maybe to include Lexus or Volvo, but the main players are the three German automakers.
Can Audi, BMW and Mercedes be successfully challenged?
They produce very, very good cars, but they're all much the same. I mean, they're all drawn with a ruler, straight lines, very rational.
What Infiniti can do is provide the technology, the ride and handling, the NVH [noise, vibration and harshness] that is equal to those guys -- this is one of the benefits of our relationship with Daimler. But Infiniti will put all this in a package that is first of all, by its nature, smaller volume. Therefore, it's more unique.
So design makes the difference?
Our design is provocative. Some people like it. Some people don't. But it's basically there to look very different. So it's not drawn with a ruler. It's not straight lines. It's very sensual and will become even more so. It will be all about design motion.
Which current model best exemplifies Infiniti's vision?
The QX70. It's my personal car. I drive the Vettel edition [named after Infiniti-sponsored Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel]. When you drive a QX70 in Europe it turns heads. It turns heads because it's such a standout design. First and foremost, that's the differentiation. It's basically for people who are bored with Germanic, Teutonic looking designs.
Which German premium brand has the market positioning that Infiniti wants to match?
I would say Audi is close to what we target. Audi is new money, the newest member to the club. And I would say if I want to make a simile of who we desire to be cross-shopped with, it's Audi, productwise and pricewise.
The Q50 is the first production car with steer-by-wire. Is this a crucial step toward autonomous driving?
Some people absolutely love it. Others absolutely hate it. Infiniti can be relevantly different and that's why we chose to go with steer-by-wire. This technology naturally takes us toward a much faster execution of autonomous driving car. We're getting an enormous amount of experience based on that technology.
Are you selling it at or below cost? Are the steer-by-wire redundancies -- two steering motors, three control units and a physical steering column that automatically re-engages if the entire by-wire system fails -- covered by the 1,400 euros ($1,850) that you charge as an option?
It's like every new technology. Did we make money on electric cars when we introduced them? Of course not. Profitability is always a subject of whether you cover your invested fixed costs. We don't lose money on electric cars anymore, that's clear. But when you enter a new technology, there's a curve to be gone down and we're obviously faster into that curve than anybody else.
You can reach Luca Ciferri at email@example.com