Philipp Heldt
Managing Director
Infiniti Mexico and Latin America
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View from the Top

Infiniti Relies on Brand Differentiation to Carve out Its Market

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 12:44

Q: At the time you took over, Infiniti held a 2% market share in the premium car market. With BMW, MercedesBenz, and Audi all boosting their presence in Mexico, how can Infiniti compete while improv¡ng its market share?

A: With only 25 years in the market, Infiniti is a relatively young brand with significant potential in a highly competitive market. This unique position creates an interesting opportunity to improve Infiniti’s market position with an aggressive strategy. From the point of view of both the brand and the product portfolio expansion, Infiniti is going through an interesting phase. Infiniti is already standing out in the market, and even though market share is a useful KPI, it is not a comprehensive indicator for our company at this point. We are not looking to become a competitor in terms of volume, but we believe there is a niche market for an alternative strategy to those previously seen in terms of product and customer experience, and we would like to establish a strong position in the premium segment by capitalizing on this brand differentiation.

At the moment, we are the fastest growing premium brand, mainly due to the implementation of an aggresive market strategy with our newest Q50 model. This vehicle is a medium-sized premium sedan, and forms a vital part of our portfolio since it belongs to the largest segment in the Mexican premium market. Due to a combination of innovative design, cutting-edge technology and high quality service, we are using this model as our flagship product. Furthermore, starting from the dealership, we offer a unique customer experience that enables us to stand out against other brands’ distributors. In an effort to position ourselves against other premium brands with an established reputation, we provide our premium level dealerships with a high investment in sales personnel and post-sales personnel to offer a truly personalized and luxurious service and experience.

Q: How do you integrate a unique customer experience in the Infiniti models, while building the Infiniti brand itself?

A: In its 25 years of history, Infiniti has created a series of iconic cars that constitute the soul of the brand and we are now taking the next step from product to brand. We are introducing extremely distinct elements of design to the  current Q50, the most iconic being the new grille, which will be integrated in all our new models from now on. We also have a distinct LED lighting design that resembles the human eye, providing a unique shape to the vehicle. We are also incorporating interior and exterior technology in an intuitive way that enhances the driver experience.

The brand and the product itself are vital for the whole customer experience, but what places us at a higher level is the interaction that the client has with both these factors in our dealerships. We pay attention to the quality of our service, the personal attention we provide, and the hospitality we offer our clients. In Mexico, we have eight dealerships and according to our geo-marketing analysis, these cover between 80% and 90% of the Mexican premium segment. Our distributors are located in the biggest cities in the country, such as Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey, but also in Leon, Puebla and Merida.

Q: Since it launched in April 2014, the Q50 has represented 46% of Infiniti’s sales. What has made this model stand out so much?

A: The success of the Q50 in Mexico aligns with the importance of the medium-sized sedan segment, which is the most crucial segment of the premium market in Mexico. Infiniti is providing this segment with a truly attractive car, which stands out due to a bold finish and a sporty, youthful style. We are pairing this with equipment levels that go beyond what is normally offered in the segment. We have become the first company to launch steer-by-wire technology, where the connection between the steering wheel and the front tires is not physical, but rather through sensors and actuators. We have received a positive response to this technology, as it gives the opportunity to become attuned with the driving experience of the car.

We also offer an active safety system through a technology called Safety Shield, which allows the car to brake by itself in an emergency situation. By monitoring the cars that are driving in the vehicle’s periphery, the sensors register any distance changes, allowing the car to automatically apply the brakes even before the car directly in front does so, which is technology that is unique to Infiniti. Additionally we have included lane-changing technology, which will cause the car to brake and switch lanes if it senses another vehicle too close. By offering these features in the Q50, we have differentiated ourselves as the only company offering such a comprehensive range of technology, and the market is reacting well to that.

The entry-level Q50 has a 327HP motor, while other luxury brands offer a starter vehicle with an engine well below 200HP and an incomplete equipment level. Prices start at MX$498,000 (US$33,000) for our basic Q50, going up to MX$1.23 million (US$82,000) for the high end QX80, which is our top of the range full size SUV. Our price scales are aligned with other premium brands, but we are competing with a different approach that is proving to be extremely successful. Since the new QX80 is also incorporating the design and technology elements featured by the Q50, we have observed a boost in its sales.

Q: Is there a possibility that new technologies can scare away a new customer if he is only used to traditional technologies?

A: Many customers are not able to competently operate cutting-edge technology, especially at such a high level, which is why Infiniti endeavors to create features that not only innovative, but also highly accessible for a wide range of customer demographics. We have developed our vehicles extensively, allowing anyone to manage the technology in an Infiniti in an easy and comfortable way.

Q: Does the joint venture with Daimler in Aguascalientes change the way both brands are perceived in Mexico?

A: We do not believe that this is the case. As a project of the Renault-Nissan Alliance with Daimler, it is one of many ongoing projects we have in cross-industry collaboration. Even though we will be sharing the production facility, the brands will be completely separate, since we take our product image extremely seriously and are not looking to mix, rebrand or rebadge. Moreover, we work independently in terms of engineering, design, and focus, but the great success of these manufacturing synergies is that they are being achieved without the need to mix the brands. In our joint venture plant, part of the strategy for success is sharing knowledge, expertise, and suppliers, even though the design between both companies differs greatly.

Q: Why have so many luxury brands decided to set up plants in Mexico around the same time?

A: Like all major trends, their arrival is explained by a combination of factors that bring sudden movement to an industry, and there are both macro- and micro-economic elements that account for this. On the production side, the automotive industry in Mexico has been evolving over time, directed by the volume brands and mostly exporting to the US. However, over this time the industry has expanded to create a skilled workforce and a sizeable supplier pool. Macroeconomically speaking, the Mexican authorities, as well as private industry, have made great efforts to generate strong collaborative relationships with most relevant companies and regions worldwide, setting up effective partnerships and trade agreements.

As the global automotive market has continued to grow in the premium sector, OEMs have been increasingly seeking new plant locations, and Mexico constitutes the ideal environment due to a combination of factors such as its growing internal market, its competitive workforce, and its stable economy. Additionally, Mexico has a unique geographical position, with a proximity not only to the US by train or truck, but ideally positioned to access many other economies through the shipping channels of the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. This array of positive factors makes Mexico a strong candidate for any OEM looking for a new location. In just three years, our operations in Mexico have generated a lot of best practices and increased awareness of the brand. This has served as a pool of ideas that we are now exporting to other markets where Infiniti is present as we successfully begin our fourth year of operations.