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Nissan's Infiniti goes racing for profits in China

Bloomberg News - Nissan Motor Co.'s luxury Infiniti unit said it is aiming to turn profitable in the next three to four years as it begins production in China and introduces entry-level vehicles to attract customers.

Infiniti, which last year relocated its headquarters to Hong Kong from Japan, plans to start building cars in China in the third quarter of 2014 and for global sales this year to gain at least 10 percent to about 200,000 units, President Johan de Nysschen said in an interview Tuesday.

"We really have been a U.S.-centric brand," de Nysschen said on Bloomberg TV's "Asia Edge" show with Susan Li and Rishaad Salamat in Hong Kong. "The future has got to be for us to look at China."

Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn hired de Nysschen, formerly Audi's U.S. head, to revamp Infiniti as the brand seeks a bigger share of China's growing luxury auto market and boost global sales of the brand to 500,000 units a year.

Nissan, based in Yokohama, is looking to boost Infiniti's position against BMW, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen's Audi and Toyota's Lexus.

Global sales last year were below 200,000 units, de Nysschen said last month in Detroit. Infiniti sold 12,551 vehicles in China in 2012, according to researcher LMC Automotive.

Nissan moved Infiniti's global headquarters to Hong Kong last May. The marque said in December it would revamp model names this year Q for cars, QX for light trucks as part of a push to expand in the U.S. and China.

It unveiled the Q50 sports car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month, in its first shot against BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

In China, Infiniti delayed introducing some models and cut back on marketing and promotion after consumer sentiment turned against Japanese brands last year as the dispute over the Senkaku Islands escalated.

"The very intense emotion around the issue seems to have subsided somewhat, and we find that business is returning to a more normal state," de Nysschen said. Still, tensions between the two countries remain a "strong undercurrent" to doing business, he said.

Infiniti is incorporated as a separate legal entity with its own corporate culture and brand philosophy, though it's a wholly owned unit of Nissan, de Nysschen said.

Infiniti is confident of increasing sales this year in China by at least 10 percent and plans to add 20 dealerships in 2013 to the 60 in operation as of the end of last year, he said last month.

Annual sales in China, the biggest growth market for Infiniti, should reach 200,000 units by the end of the decade, de Nysschen said at the time. The brand had not previously released sales figures for China, according to its country head, Allen Lyu.

The marque is looking into introducing lower-priced, entry-level models to attract younger buyers as baby boomers decline in numbers, de Nysschen said.

The weakening of the yen has brought a "sense of relief" because most of Infiniti's production is in Japan, with only one model made outside of the country, he said.

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