Launched as Nissan Motor Co.'s Japanese luxury brand in 1989, Infiniti has had the odd history of never being offered in its home market.
Infiniti's worldwide president wants to change that and introduce the brand to the nation that created it. But he admits that it is not yet clear to him how to do it.
"I think it's important that Infiniti should also be present in Japan," says Johan de Nysschen, who was named head of Infiniti last year. "It's under investigation as to what is the most sane way to enter the market. But it's complex."
Infiniti has been expanding its list of world markets for the past few years, setting up dedicated Infiniti dealer networks in Germany, Mexico, Brazil and other countries. Japan is trickier because Infiniti already allows two models of its somewhat limited product line -- rebadged as Nissans -- to be sold there by Nissan dealers, de Nysschen points out.
"Do we continue to provide those two existing models to those dealers as Nissans, and also bring in the rest of the Infiniti range to distribute?" he asks.
"Or do we go the purest way and set up those cars as Infinitis, and create an exclusive Infiniti distribution network? And if you do that, what do you do about the dealers who will have lost two important models?
"Or do you say, just let the dealers distribute Nissans and Infinitis together?"
Doing that would complicate another issue de Nysschen is focused on: Pushing Infiniti further away from Nissan in their global brand identities. In December, to give greater separation to the two vehicle brands, de Nysschen went so far as to have Infiniti chartered as a self-standing corporation, now called Infiniti Motor Co.
But Japan looms larger for Infiniti today than it did 20 years ago because of the size of its consumer market. Infiniti has a goal of selling 500,000 vehicles a year globally in 2017. Last year it sold about 170,000, just under 120,000 of them in the United States.
Getting to 500,000 units is a double mission of opening new markets -- like Japan -- and developing products that appeal to global luxury consumers. De Nysschen expects a product expansion over the next three years that will push Infiniti into critical luxury product segments from which it currently is absent. Among them: a vehicle with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and a diesel-engine vehicle for Europe.
"That segment is completely unserved by us today," he says. The brand also lacks a compact crossover to compete against the Lexus RX and BMW X3.
"We just don't have a car that plays there," he says. "If we got a winning car in that segment, that would be worth 40,000 sales a year all by itself."