AMSTERDAM - Nissan is studying proposals to introduce its luxury Infiniti brand in Europe. The brand would be a competitor to Toyota's Lexus.
According to Harmut Kieven, Nissan's new vice president for sales and marketing, the company sees potential for growth in Europe's upmarket segments. A decision on whether to offer the Infiniti line in Europe is likely by mid-1999.
Infiniti's models currently are designed for the North American market. The lack of product developed specifically for Europe could be a major drawback. Another problem is the dealer investment needed to handle a new, upmarket range.
But Nissan could develop and adapt Infiniti vehicles for Europe, Kieven said. Revamping the dealer network will be more difficult. Nissan's European dealers still are struggling for profit after the market downturn in the early 1990s.
Lexus in Europe currently is revamping its sales network. Lexus is splitting from Toyota dealerships and establishing its own sales outlets.
Kieven joined Nissan last summer after a 27-year career with Ford Motor Co. His last job was as managing director of Jaguar of Germany.
'For the past six years, I was helping Jaguar grow in Germany. It is now on the right track,' Kieven said. 'Jaguar had to offer the kind of top-quality service needed for this demanding customer base. I am confident we could do the same at Nissan.
'To improve Nissan dealer quality, there will more of a focus on customer satisfaction and quality targets,' Kieven said. 'The details of this program are still being worked out.
'Improving Nissan's image is my biggest challenge,' he said. 'We have decided to freshen the image, strengthen the profile and make sure Nissan builds for European quality demands.'
The proposals are part of a strategy to expand Nissan Europe's presence in niche and low-volume markets. The first new niche vehicles will be two small minivans based on the Almera (Sentra) platform. One will be a compact van in the lower-medium segment. The other will be an upper-medium model. Both will be built in Nissan's factory in Barcelona, Spain, beginning in 2000.
Nissan Europe also is developing a small coupe and a small sport-utility, said Kieven. These are likely to be introduced in two or three years.