Infiniti’s decision to elevate former Nissan U.S. sales boss Christian Meunier to the top job is being welcomed by U.S. dealers.
“It’s a breath of fresh air for us,” Mario Murgado, chairman of the Infiniti National Dealer Advisory Board, told Automotive News. “Having someone like [Meunier] who knows our market, understands our market, will do a phenomenal job for us.”
Meunier, the No. 2 executive in charge of Infiniti for the past year, has been anointed global president of Nissan’s Infiniti arm, effective immediately. Meunier replaces Roland Krueger, 53, who led Infiniti since 2015.
Krueger, a former BMW executive, is leaving to pursue new opportunities, Infiniti said. Krueger joined Infiniti as the brand was reeling from major executive defections, including President Johan de Nysschen and Chairman Andy Palmer.
Under Krueger’s watch, Infiniti sales rose 15 percent. Infiniti achieved its eighth consecutive year of record sales in 2017 with 246,492 vehicles sold globally, a 7 percent increase from the prior year. 2018 global sales have not yet been reported. Infiniti’s U.S. sales fell 2.7 percent last year to 149,280 vehicles.
Frenchman in America
Meunier, a Frenchman, most recently was Infiniti’s vice president of global marketing and sales operations. In recent years, he led operations in the U.S. and Canada for Nissan.
Meunier, who has a master’s degree from EDHEC Business School in Lille, France, began his Nissan career in 2002 as general manager for sales in Europe.
The former Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover executive then held several positions in marketing and sales before becoming president of Nissan Brazil in 2010, where he helped turn around the company and made Infiniti the fastest growing brand in Brazil for three consecutive years.
In 2013, Meunier was named president of Nissan Canada. Four years later, he was named Infiniti’s head of global marketing and sales.
Meunier, who will continue to be based in Nashville, Tenn., where he has been for the past year, is familiar with Infiniti’s No. 1 market -- the United States. The U.S. accounts for more than 70 percent of Infiniti’s business worldwide.
“Having someone like Meunier who knows our market, understands our market, will do a phenomenal job for us,” said Murgado, who owns Infiniti Stuart in Florida. “Christian has a great track record of winning in Canada, of winning in America and dealers are very, very excited about having him lead.”
Meunier’s biggest challenge will be growing Infiniti’s market share in the highly competitive luxury auto sector. In 2018, Infiniti trailed Germany’s BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, as well as Japanese rival Lexus in U.S. sales.
“You have a market that’s highly pressurized, you have a market right now that’s being compressed,” Murgado said. “How do you stand out, how do you get market share and how do you get people to want to buy your products?”
Infiniti has the oldest product portfolio in the luxury market, Murgado said.
“That’s a bridge Meunier is going to have to cross,” the dealer said. “If there’s anyone that I have the confidence that can do that, I have that confidence in Christian.”
Meunier will also have to steer Infiniti through a powertrain technology transition. Infiniti plans to electrify its portfolio from 2021 onward, using a hybrid system or full electric powertrains. Infiniti, however, is late to the electrification game.
Infiniti will show the QX Inspiration concept at the Detroit auto show this month. The concept will be the blueprint for a production EV crossover in the next couple of years.
The management changes at Infiniti come as parent company Nissan Motor Co. undergoes a management shake-up of its own, following the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
On Saturday, Nissan said its chief performance officer, Jose Munoz, had taken a leave of absence. In addition, Senior Vice President Arun Bajaj, head of human resources at Nissan and senior vice president of talent development at the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, also has taken a leave of absence.
Meanwhile, Ghosn has languished in a Tokyo jail since Nov. 19 as he faces charges related to allegations of financial misdeeds. In court on Tuesday, Ghosn said he has been “wrongly accused and unfairly detained.”