Nissan Motor Co. (7201) will start selling Infiniti cars in Japan for the first time, 24 years after the luxury brand was born in the U.S., as it takes on high-end models from automakers including Daimler AG (DAI)’s Mercedes-Benz.
The first model in Japan, to be sold as Skyline, will be a hybrid version of Infiniti’s flagship Q50 sedan, Nissan Chief Planning Officer Andy Palmer said before an event yesterday to unveil the car, which will go on sale in February. Nissan is targeting initial monthly sales of 200 vehicles for the model, priced from 4.5 million yen ($45,000), the company said in a statement yesterday.
Selling Infiniti in more markets would move the Yokohama, Japan-based carmaker closer to its goal of boosting the brand’s annual sales to 500,000 vehicles by March 2017 and narrow the gap with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Mercedes-Benz. Nissan is tapping Japanese consumers’ familiarity with the brand Skyline, which is also the name of a range of autos it already sells in the nation.
“Will it work to expand Nissan’s footprint, or will Japanese buyers view this as a simple marketing ploy?” Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said by e-mail. “We’ll know soon enough, but it’s possible Nissan will merely retain its existing customer base with little-to-no real growth in total home market sales.”
Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), Japan’s largest automaker, introduced the Lexus brand in its home market in 2005. Last year’s domestic sales of the luxury brand fell 3 percent to 42,300 vehicles, accounting for less than 10 percent of global deliveries, according to Toyota. Honda Motor Co., the nation’s third-largest carmaker, doesn’t sell its Acura luxury cars in Japan.
Nissan said it sold 173,000 Infiniti cars worldwide in 2012, compared with its goal of half a million vehicles a year by 2017.
Prince Motor, a carmaker for the late Emperor Hirohito, first introduced Skyline cars in Japan in 1957. The automaker merged with Nissan in 1966.
Nissan began selling the Skyline sedan as the Infiniti G sport sedan overseas in 2002 and renamed the model Q50 at the start of this year. The Nissan Skyline will continue to be sold in Japan along with the hybrid Skyline, Palmer said.
“Its bloodline, its DNA, is directly from the Prince Motor Company,” Palmer said. “There can be no better symbol of the fact that Skyline is linked to the premium and luxury brand.”
Palmer declined to say whether Nissan plans to sell the gasoline-run Infiniti Q50 in Japan or sell other models under the luxury brand at home in the future.
Nissan rose 1.1 percent to 907 yen as of 12:52 p.m. in Tokyo trading, while Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average gained 1.9 percent. The carmaker’s shares have climbed 12 percent this year.
The new Skyline is priced similarly to BMW’s 3-series, which starts at about 4.5 million yen in Japan, and the Mercedes-Benz C-class, costing 4 million yen or more, according to the companies’ websites.
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