Nissan to sell cars with Infiniti badge in Japan

YOKOHAMA (REUTERS) - Nissan Motor will start selling Infiniti-badged cars in Japan for the first time as it tries to position the brand as a global competitor to prestige European cars, the company said on Monday.

Japan's second-biggest carmaker said it will sell its redesigned Skyline sedan with the Infiniti badge on the front, steering wheel and wheels from late February 2014. The model is sold overseas as the Infiniti Q50.

The move is part of Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn's plan to develop the 25-year-old Infiniti brand - sold mainly in the United States - to compete globally with the likes of Volkswagen AG's Audi and Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz.

"We decided to put (on) the Infiniti badge so that we can promise to our customers that the new Skyline is a global premium sedan," said Executive Vice President Hiroto Saikawa, recently been promoted to the company's de facto No.2.

Nissan said the redesigned Infiniti-badged Skyline would be sold at Nissan dealerships in Japan. It would not set up an Infiniti-only sales and service network in Japan; nor would it introduce a range of Infiniti vehicles in the home market.

Executive Vice-President Andy Palmer would not say if the Yokohama-based carmaker would put the Infiniti badge on other cars sold in Japan.

Mr Ghosn has set aggressive goals for Infiniti, aiming to triple its global sales to 500,000 vehicles by around 2017 and expand its share of the premium market, where Infiniti cars are sold, to 10 per cent on average by the end of the decade.

While Nissan has not provided its current market share, Mr Yoshiaki Kawano, an autos analyst at IHS Automotive, estimated that Infiniti in 2012 held a 2.5 per cent share in the global premium market and expects it to grow to 3.3 per cent by 2018.

Mr Ghosn has also set other ambitious targets for Nissan, though the company has recently seen some quality issues.

Earlier this month, the group slashed its net profit outlook for the year through March 2014 by nearly 20 per cent.

Mr Palmer, who oversees global sales, said he sees no need for Infiniti targets to be changed and that the brand could add new models such as a compact car that could boost sales volume.

Infiniti accounts for around 3.5 per cent of Nissan's total global sales. The United States is its biggest market, accounting for around 70 per cent of the 172,615 Infiniti-branded vehicles sold around the world last financial year.

The starting price of the redesigned Skyline, a hybrid model with new safety features such as emergency braking and a collision-warning system, will be around US$45,400, (S$56,606) Nissan said.

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