Nissan Motor Co. (7201)’s head of its Infiniti luxury brand resigned after two years on the job.
President Johan de Nysschen’s resignation was announced internally today, Infiniti spokesman Stefan Weinmann said. Andy Palmer, Nissan’s chief planning officer overseeing the Infiniti business, will head the luxury unit in the interim as the company searches for a successor, he said.
De Nysschen’s departure comes as Infiniti, which moved its headquarters to Hong Kong to focus on the Chinese market, prepares to begin production in the world’s biggest auto market. Infiniti is targeting 10 percent of the world premium market by 2020 to challenge Volkswagen AG’s Audi, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.
De Nysschen, who wasn’t available to comment, was recruited two years ago from Audi, where he worked for almost two decades. By 2011, his last full year running the German brand’s U.S. unit, sales climbed 42 percent from 2005.
Automotive News, which earlier reported on de Nysschen’s departure, reported the executive has talked with General Motors Co. (GM:US) about working for the U.S. automaker’s Cadillac brand. Lori Arpin, a GM spokeswoman, declined to comment.
During de Nysschen’s two-year tenure as head of Infiniti, the premium brand has expanded into markets from South America to Southeast Asia, and has announced production plans for China, U.K., and Mexico.
Production in China will start this year for two long-wheelbase models, as foreign automakers step up investments to increase their share in the country, which McKinsey & Co. predicts will overtake the U.S. to become the top market for luxury vehicles by 2016.
Last month, Nissan and Daimler said they will assemble as many as 300,000 Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti compact cars at a new facility near Nissan’s plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The first Infiniti cars are due to roll off the line in 2017. The carmaker will also start making Q30 compact cars in the U.K. from next year.
While de Nysschen is leaving, Infiniti has been recruiting executives from rivals since Nissan moved the brand to Hong Kong two years ago to give it more autonomy as CEO Carlos Ghosn counts on it to help Nissan reach an 8 percent operating margin by March, 2017.
This month, Infiniti said it hired Gaby-Luise Wuest from BMW as its new vice president for global operations, effective Sept. 1. In China, Infiniti hired BMW’s Daniel Kirchert, a fluent Mandarin speaker who had headed the German carmaker’s expansion in the country since 2007.
Today’s disclosure comes days after Infiniti said its first-half sales rose 30 percent to a record, with deliveries in China more than doubling from a year earlier.
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