TURIN – Renault-Nissan CEO Carlo Ghosn has set a bold target for Infiniti in Europe: boost sales to 100,000 vehicles by 2016 from 12,500 last year.
The huge volume increase for the Nissan luxury brand in Europe, including Turkey and Russia, is part of Ghosn's ambition to triple Infiniti's global sales to 500,000 units by 2016 from 146,000 last year.
The car Infiniti is counting on to drive the European sales increase will be a compact-premium model due in 2014. The Europe-built model, which will compete against the Audi A3, BMW 1 series and Mercedes Benz A class, will take design cues from the Etherea concept that was unveiled at the 2011 Geneva auto show.
"This new vehicle represents a significant opportunity for the Infiniti brand to reach new consumers and grow in key markets such as western Europe," said Andy Palmer, who is the Nissan executive vice president responsible for Infiniti.
The production version of the car will be built by Austrian contract manufacturer Magna Steyr. Polish media reports say that Magna Steyr could build the Infiniti compact in a former FSO-Daewoo plant in Warsaw. Last month, Polish Deputy Economy Minister Andrzej Dycha was quoted by the PAP news agency as saying Magna Steyr could turn out 200,000 cars a year within five years of the plant's takeover, which still requires approval.
The new Infiniti will be based on the platform that underpins the Mercedes A- and B-class cars. Mercedes parent Daimler formed an alliance with Renault and Nissan in April 2010.
Sources told Automotive News Europe last December that Magna Steyr could make 50,000 to 60,000 units a year of the production version of the Etherea.
Infiniti debuted in Europe four years ago. It arrived at the start of the global economic downturn and was further hampered by only offering gasoline-powered SUVs. It now also sells sedans and offers diesels in Europe. The automaker also has a new global boss: longtime Audi executive Johan De Nysschen. He knows how to turn a strong but struggling brand into a winner on foreign soil, which he proved as Audi of America president. Audi's share of the U.S. luxury market has climbed from 5.3 percent in 2004 to 9.5 percent last year, and the Volkswagen Group-owned brand is quickly gaining on its key competitors, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Last year, it sold 117,561 vehicles in the United States, a 16 percent increase over 2010.
Even if De Nysschen and Infiniti reach Ghosn's tough European sales target, the automaker will have a long way to go to catch up to its German rivals. Audi sold 692,979 units in Europe last year, ahead of BMW's 655,508 and Mercedes's 605,843, according to market researcher JATO Dynamics.