NASHVILLE -- Carlos Ghosn last week turned to another fresh face in his latest efforts to spark Nissan Motor Corp.'s Infiniti luxury brand.
Gone, suddenly, as vice president for Infiniti Americas was Michael Bartsch, 56, who had been recruited from Porsche Cars North America just 18 months ago. Like most Infiniti chiefs in the Ghosn era, Bartsch left parent Nissan when his run at the luxury arm ended.
The brand's future in the U.S., Infiniti's biggest market, now falls to Randy Parker, 48. Parker had spent most of his career at General Motors and its former finance arm, GMAC, before joining Nissan as a regional manager in 2013.
During Ghosn's 16-year tenure leading the Japanese automaker, he has relied on several executives groomed by rivals to move the needle on Infiniti. But he hasn't come close to breaking into the top tier of luxury automakers -- a goal that dates to the 1990s and remains one of his key declared objectives.
Last year Infiniti ranked seventh among luxury brands in the U.S., selling 117,330 vehicles, or about a third as many as No. 1 Mercedes. Infiniti sold 182,000 vehicles worldwide, a 13 percent increase from the year before. Global leader BMW sold 1.66 million.
Fueling Ghosn's current hope is a stream of new models, including three new compact luxury vehicles that are being co-developed with Mercedes and will use engines and other technologies shared with the German automaker.
But those new products won't begin reaching showrooms until late this year, and the rollout won't be completed until 2018.
"Infiniti has been a long story of overpromising and underdelivering," Ghosn told Automotive News Europe just before last week's U.S. management change.
Infiniti's U.S. retailers received news of the executive switch with some trepidation, said Matt Gunderson, owner of Infiniti of Mission Viejo in Orange County, Calif., and chairman of Infiniti's national dealer advisory board.
"You always have the concern that management change brings additional changes," Gunderson said Thursday, Feb. 19, after Infiniti's dealer board met in New York. "But the clear message we've gotten is that we continue to pursue the same strategies to achieve our same objectives of growth."
Ghosn insists that he remains patient. But for its leaders, Infiniti hasn't been a path to an extended stay within Nissan.
Bartsch's immediate predecessors, longtime Ford executive Ben Poore and Nissan veteran Mark Igo, both exited the auto industry after leading Infiniti.
Tom Orbe, the first of Ghosn's U.S. Infiniti chiefs, departed in 2001 at age 49 seeking a job that allowed him more time with his family. Add in Bartsch, and the four left Nissan at the average age of 51.
Ghosn's only U.S. Infiniti boss to step to another Nissan position was Mark McNabb, who moved on to head Nissan Division, left the company for Mercedes, and returned to steer Nissan North America. McNabb has since held senior positions at General Motors, Maserati and Volkswagen.
Bartsch left to pursue other interests, Infiniti said in announcing his departure. Initially, he reported directly to Johan de Nysschen, who had been recruited from Audi to steer Infiniti's global operations from Hong Kong. De Nysschen's own high-profile post at Infiniti lasted just two years. He's now in charge of Cadillac.
In the recent interview, Ghosn showed less patience when asked about leadership at Infiniti worldwide.
"You change CEOs when things are not delivered," he said. "When you overpromise and underdeliver, you go. This is the rule in our industry."
Dealer Gunderson said de Nysschen rejuvenated the spirits of Infiniti dealers when he arrived in 2012 and laid out a long-term product plan for the brand.
"We really appreciated Johan's six-year vision," Gunderson said. "And it helped with our long-term planning. But all Infiniti really needs right now is a two-year plan -- and for everybody to stick to it."
Ghosn replaced de Nysschen with Roland Krueger, hired from BMW AG in September.
"I trust him," Ghosn said. "He is a man with a high level of integrity between what he promised and what he can deliver. I feel confident that under his leadership, Infiniti is going to limit its promise to what it can deliver."
Ghosn added: "We're patient. We have time. Infiniti is an opportunity for us. Ultimately what I want is to make Infiniti another engine of growth and an engine of profitability for Nissan."
Luca Ciferri contributed to this report.