Roland Krueger joined Infiniti as president in early 2015 after 17 years at BMW. We sat down with him at the 2017 Detroit auto show, where Infiniti unveiled the QX50 concept.
Automobile Magazine: How do you feel Infiniti sits in the marketplace today?
Roland Krueger: We crossed 230,000 vehicles globally (138,293 in the U.S.) in 2016 and grew in every single region. This confirms that we’ve really been building momentum. That will continue moving forward, with the launch of new cars. We feel very confident about where we are today and our prospects.
AM: How is Infiniti is different now compared to when you started two years ago?
RK: We did a few things that are very important. We confirmed and enhanced our relationship with the dealer network all around the world. Also, of course, it’s our new vehicles that we’re launching and the development of that going forward. Last, but not least, is the brand development. We’ve come a long, long way. We’ve defined and positioned the brand. It’s a very consistence, structured approach.
AM: Is Hong Kong still the right place for Infiniti to call home?
RK: (laughs) There are many people asking this question! What is important as a global brand is (having) a space where you develop the brand. It’s also close to one of the most important growth opportunities that we have: China. That’s not in terms of size today but in terms of growth opportunities. It’s huge. At the same time we keep our space to become a true global premium player in the automotive industry. That is working out quite nicely for us. Also, we’re a rather small team, and we want to keep it small, actually. It’s nice — there are only about 150 people but we have a high level of diversity. We have 25 nationalities on that team with a lot of creativity and very good ideas.
AM: What segments are potential areas for growth?
RK: The growth is in SUVs. That’s why we have the new QX50 concept. It exemplifies our future SUVs, and that’s definitely where the growth is.
AM: Do you move upscale or downscale — or both?
RK: We’ve launched new models like the Q60 as a brand shaper. We positioned ourselves in the luxury performance segment there. At the same time, we launched the QX30 and Q30 as our entry position, especially in Europe but also in the U.S. As discussed, it’s also SUVs. Today, 60 percent of our sales are SUVs, and we see that growing.
AM: What makes Infiniti different from the competition?
RK: We have clearly outlined our positioning with our brand claim, Empower the Drive. On a rational positioning, we are offering forward-looking technologies that set us apart in the industry, such as autonomous drive functions. The Q50 was one of the first cars in the industry to feature this in 2013. At the same time, we want to be seen going forward as a brand that is tapping into a customer with an entrepreneurial spirit, a creative spirit, and who definitely embraces technology. We see this as a huge potential for the brand, and it differentiates us.
AM: How important is the variable compression motor for Infiniti?
RK: It’s very important. It’s part of the positioning for the brand. It’s a very innovative technology. The engineers have worked for a long, long time. There are 300 patents, and it’s a world first. We’re very proud to have this technology in our future models. The first vehicle to get it will be the QX50. It will be standard.
AM: What makes the QX50 concept important for Infiniti?
RK: The biggest growth segment in the world presently is the D SUV segment. You see that in the U.S. and in China and other markets. From a market potential, it’s huge. We’re also going to offer autonomous drive functions on the QX50—the next step for us. It’s bigger than the outgoing vehicle. The versatility has been enhanced.
AM: Talk about Infiniti and autonomous vehicles.
RK: Obviously, autonomous drive is on everyone’s mind. We’re the only car manufacturer who is offering such a steering system (drive by wire). Going forward, the new SUVs will also offer this. This is important for us. It will become a very important position for Infiniti in the future. Having said that, we make sure to keep the driver in the equation. We offer a choice. The driver can [use it to] make their drive less stressful. But we also make sure the fun of driving is still preserved. It also makes the cars safer.
RK: We’re very humble about this. We’re a small brand compared to the big players. It’s our first statement in the 400-hp category. It is making its way quite nicely in the segment. It will establish, what we call, “red S” and “silver S” in other models. The red S is always the top-performing car. The silver S is more of the sports pack car, with the lower-output engine. We’re going to have our own positioning as we go forward. We also need to recognize that we’ve just started this and there is still room to grow.
AM: Is there a future for Red Sport with SUVs and other products?
RK: I think there are opportunities, but we haven’t decided that just yet. But this is definitely the route we are going to go. Definitely.
AM: Talk to us about Infiniti and motorsports. Why are you no longer involved with Red Bull and F1?
RK: We have a technical partnership with Renault F1. It’s not a sponsorship. Our engineers are working with their engineers to develop hybrid technology for Formula 1. We have competency in hybrid technology. So we sent some engineers to Renault starting last year. Part of what you’ll see this season is based upon that collaboration. So we’re very much engaged into motorsports, but it’s a deep technical engagement. We’re developing the (F1) car together. We see a big benefit from that going forward.
AM: What other areas of motorsports make sense for Infiniti? Le Mans and/or GT3?
RK: Let us work out the Formula 1 partnership first, and then we’ll have to see.