INTERVIEW: Building a Global Brand: A Discussion with New Head of Infiniti Global, Johan de Nysschen
Infiniti offered two North American debuts while at the 62nd Annual Pebble Concours d’Elegance: the Emerg-e concept car; and the new head of Infiniti Global, Johan de Nysschen.
After arriving in July, de Nysschen is stationed at the brand’s new global headquarters in Hong Kong. With a background in North America, de Nysschen’s new role will be to lead Infiniti’s expansion into China. The objective? Grow Infiniti fast and profitably, with a target to triple global sales to 500,000 by 2016.
This interview was conducted with de Nysschen at Pebble Beach, gaining insight on his work so far, and looking at how he plans to grow the brand.
Q1. Infiniti’s global headquarters moved to Hong Kong just prior to your arrival at the brand this year. How do you feel about that move for Infiniti?
de Nysschen: Well I think it is an important move for many reasons. For one, it is very symbolic to underscore the fact that we have taken the first steps towards setting up Infiniti as a distinct organization with a high degree of separation and autonomy from the mighty parent company. And a good opportunity to begin to build a new organization with its own corporate culture, and its own philosophy that really is rooted in the brand’s DNA. Then, we can focus on the needs and expectations of the luxury car buyer.
Q2. What does it feel like at the new HQ building?
de Nysschen: You know, Hong Kong is like a space colony. It is a very vertically oriented city and so naturally we also find ourselves in one of the skyscraper buildings that make up that distinctive skyline. In that sense, it is a premium environment; but of course we are part of many other distinguished companies that have taken up residence there. But it is a good place to be and certainly a vibrant and exciting city. One that in many respects therefore makes it an appropriate home for the global headquarters of Infiniti.
Q3. As someone with experience in developing a global luxury brand, what is it that Infiniti needs to do to reach its full potential?
de Nysschen: We have a lot of good basic-building blocks in place. After all, product is at the heart of any automotive brand and we certainly can look with great pride at our product portfolio. We probably need to pay a little bit of attention to emerging opportunities and especially to establish a global footprint for Infiniti. The brand thus far has largely been U.S.-centric and we are now working very hard to also set up a second volume hub for the brand in China. China is now the world’s largest car market and therefore any global player cannot ignore the importance of the Chinese market. And for that too we have exciting news in that we have not only set up a stand-alone Infiniti organization in China and are busy with developing a distribution network; but the big news is that we also are going to start with manufacturing in China. As we begin to position the brand more clearly, I think that is the work I’d like to do with my new team. To really answer that question, ‘what does the Infiniti brand represent?’ That is an important departure point as we begin to craft the road ahead and develop a long-term vision for the brand.
Q4. Can you discuss any new direction?
de Nysschen: Unquestionably, we want to be in a position where we can join the leadership club of the premier automotive brands. Infiniti has got a very distinctive positioning today, but one that probably needs a little bit more cultivation to create a more global footprint. I don’t want preempt the work that my team and I have ahead of us. My danger is if I give my thoughts now, then that means that everyone might want to follow the same thinking that I have now. I like to stimulate good conversation. So I’d like to hold off on giving a detailed answer right now.
Q5. Will the brand introduce a halo car?
de Nysschen: Absolutely. I think that as part of our assessment of our current product footprint, especially as we want to become a more global brand, we have to look at the needs and wants of other markets. Look at power trains, perhaps smaller capacity engines than we have for the U.S. market today; we might look at a powerful compact 4-cylinder gasoline engine. We need to look at diesel engines and of course the electric power train is a very important part of Infiniti’s progressive technology attack on the future. But in addition to that, as we look at expanding the power trains, we also need to look at which market segments we are not present in today. It might be on the entry side of the market – the concept of the compact premium is really gaining a lot of momentum nowadays as companies everywhere have to deal with the demands of meeting tighter fuel consumption and emission targets. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we also are a premium brand and a premium brand needs something that is really emotional and aspirational. And so I would say it is not a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when.’ We need to pull that trigger when the timing is right. But I can say with a high degree of confidence that there is going to be a stunningly aspirational Infiniti in our future.
Q6. How do you think that the luxury customer will receive an electric vehicle?
de Nysschen: Whenever you are at the forefront of technology, if you build a road where no road has been built before, the going is tougher and slower. It takes a longer time to break through the rough terrain and to establish a solid base. That is the price of leadership. Somebody has to do it. The big advantage means that you are ahead of the curve and it also allows us to showcase the progressive technologies of Infiniti and have that positive association with the brand. As far as luxury consumers specifically are concerned, I think there is a rising social awareness to begin to manage conspicuous consumption. Discerning customers do not want to settle for less; this is where we have magnificent opportunities with our new product that is on the brink of being launched. To offer a really premium automobile with a very high grade of meticulous fit-and-finish, a lot of luxurious benefits, a phenomenal styling package; but one where the ability of our customer to exercise good social responsibility is preeminent. Imagine driving a luxury car where you have zero emissions. With all of the exhilarating driving performance and cocooning luxury, it is very appealing.
Q7. What do you expect to be different about Infiniti five years from now?
de Nysschen: I think that as the brand becomes more global, so we will probably have a bit more attitude and we will become more confident in expressing who we are. That is one of the tasks that lies ahead for the team and myself to very accurately define what the brand stands for. We will have an answer to that question far sooner than five years from now. In five years you can expect to see a broader product portfolio, a more clearly distinct image and certainly our driver profile will have made considerable advancement in terms of demographics, income groups and broad aspirational appeal.