Infiniti mulls first EV with eye on China

HONG KONG/TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co.'s premium Infiniti brand is evaluating when to introduce a pure electric vehicle with the outlook for demand in China in mind.

Infiniti now offers nine models in China, of which five are SUVs and the remaining sedans. Six of the vehicles run on gasoline and the others are hybrid models.

"When I think about EV, we design it for China definitely, even as the first market to launch," Infiniti President Roland Krueger said in an interview in Hong Kong last week. "We are discussing this internally constantly what is the right timing for Infiniti to have such vehicles."

Premium brands including Tesla Motors and BMW Group are counting on China to drive sales of electric cars, as the country overtook U.S. to become the world's largest EV market last year after the government spent heavily to build charging infrastructure and subsidize purchases.

Infiniti, which has delayed the production of an all-electric sedan based on its LE concept car shown in 2012, is focusing on hybrid models that have better range, Krueger said.

Infiniti could be "very fast" in putting the electric car on the market once a decision is reached, as it has the technological backing from parent Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault, Krueger said.

Slowing China sales

Sales have slowed in China this year for Infiniti, gaining 2 percent in the first nine months and trailing its global growth of 7 percent. Rival brands such as General Motors Co.'s Cadillac and Ford Motor Co.'s imported Lincoln have recorded sales increases of 38 percent and 191 percent, respectively, in the same period.

Infiniti, which set up its headquarters in Hong Kong in 2012 to be closer to the mainland market, has to do better in China if it's to achieve a target of capturing 10 percent of the global luxury car market by 2020.

Infiniti will introduce the QX30 SUV in China next month, featuring a 1.6-liter engine tailored for the Chinese market to qualify for a government tax cut for small cars. The model will further boost its sales this year, Krueger said. The QX30 has helped power a 155 percent sales jump in western Europe this year.

"It's a smaller car that adds new customers to the brand," said Krueger. "We are quite confident that we can outgrow last year, for both the world and China."

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