TOKYO -- Infiniti wants to go big in China by going local.
Nissan Motor Co.’s luxury brand aims to triple sales in the world’s biggest auto market in five years by ramping up production of five new nameplates in the country.
The first of the vehicles to be built in China will be the QX50 crossover, which will go on sale in the country by year’s end, Infiniti said Thursday. The others will be added within five years.
The move will help Infiniti duck steep tariffs on imported vehicles and price its offerings more competitively. By doing so, the brand aims to triple annual sales in China to nearly 150,000 vehicles.
Infiniti’s sales in China climbed 16 percent to a record 48,408 vehicles in 2017.
The brand currently manufactures only two models in China, the Q50L and Q70L, stretch versions of the two sedans. They are built at Nissan’s plant in Xiangyang.
The QX50 will be manufactured at a factory in Dalian. Infiniti did not say what the other locally-produced nameplates will be or where they will be made. Infiniti operates in China through Nissan Motor Co.’s partnership with Dongfeng Motor Co.
The QX50 will tap a sweet spot. China sales of SUVs and crossovers surged 11 percent in the first quarter to 2.66 million units, outpacing the overall market’s 2.6 percent rise.
Going forward, electrification will be another key element of Infiniti’s expansion in China. The brand says that by 2025, more than half of its new vehicles sold there will be electrified.
“As part of our roadmap to electrify our portfolio, we anticipate that by 2025, more than 50 percent of new Infiniti vehicles sold globally and in China will be electrified,” Infiniti President Roland Krueger said in a statement. “Infiniti is pursuing localization in China for China.”
Foreshadowing the shift, Infiniti will show the Q Inspiration concept at next week’s Beijing auto show. The electrified sedan points to the brand’s future design direction.
Nissan is plotting aggressive growth in China that could catapult the country ahead of the United States as the Japanese carmaker’s top market in five years. It aims to boost annual sales in China by two-thirds, or some 1 million vehicles, to 2.6 million through 2022.
To get there, Nissan and its Chinese partner, Dongfeng, will introduce 40 models, including 20 electrified vehicles, across all brands, from the Infiniti luxury and Nissan mass market marques to the Venucia and Dongfeng local counterparts. The company will also expand its retail network to more than 2,000 outlets for all brands. Infiniti will grow from 126 stores to more than 200.
The ambitious goals are part of the new “M.O.V.E. to 2022” midterm plan unveiled late last year by Nissan President Hiroto Saikawa.
The 20 new electrified models include EVs as well as nameplates powered by Nissan’s e-Power range-extender hybrid setup. Nissan has said a quarter of the Infiniti portfolio in China will be electrified by 2022, with the rollout including pure EVs and e-Power vehicles.