YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. is finally bringing the Infiniti marque to Japan, a quarter century after its global debut in the United States. Well, sort of.
Building Infiniti into a truly global brand -- with name recognition in its home market -- could benefit its image in North America and elsewhere.
But Nissan publicly says it has not decided on introducing the brand to Japan. That indecision is evident in the marketing plan for the Skyline in Japan.
Nissan is slapping the Infiniti brand's emblem on the redesigned Nissan Skyline sedan in Japan. But it won't be using the Infiniti name.
And it won't be calling it the Nissan Skyline either. Just Skyline, by Nissan Motor Co.
The move blurs the line between Infiniti and its mass-market sibling. And the fuzziness is intentional. Nissan may be testing the waters for an Infiniti launch in Japan, one of the few major markets where the brand is not sold, despite the fact that most of its cars are made here.
Brand-launch pros, cons
In the plus column for launching Infiniti in Japan is the fact that the move may assuage any unease some American Infiniti owners might feel when challenged with the idea their cars are just glorified, rebadged Nissans. To be sure, those cars are the top-shelf Nissans in Japan, but they are still called Nissans nonetheless.
Global brand unity also could generate efficiencies in marketing and advertising.
But launching a brand in Japan implies having a range of products and a separate sales channel, said Andy Palmer, executive vice president in charge of Infiniti and global product planning.
The huge costs of starting up a separate sales channel alone are reason to second-guess the notion. The rocky entry of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand in Japan also offers reasons for caution. Lexus had a strong debut in the United States, but it was slow to catch on in Japan when it was finally launched there in 2006.
The Skyline experiment is Nissan's latest move to separate Infiniti's identity from that of the Nissan brand. The push for a more independent identity has seen the automaker relocate the luxury brand's global headquarters to Hong Kong from Japan and hire a slew of top executives dedicated to running only Infiniti, instead of doing double duty at both brands as before.
Infiniti is trying to elevate Skyline from the pack by linking it to Japan's Imperial family.
"The Skyline brand takes its bloodline, its DNA, directly from the Prince Motor Co., which used to provide the vehicle for the Japanese emperor. There can be no better symbol of the fact that Skyline is linked to a premium and luxury brand," Palmer said. "This DNA is why this car is so important."
The Prince Motor Co., named in honor of then-Prince Akihito, who now reigns as Japan's emperor, developed the original Skyline. It merged with Nissan in 1966.
Indeed, the Skyline's lineage stretches over 56 years and 13 generations.
In Japan, it is an instantaneously recognized and storied nameplate and also the oldest still in existence in the Nissan portfolio. When the Infiniti brand was born in 1989, the 11th-generation Skyline was launched in the United States as the Infiniti G.