“The Middle East is a natural target for EVs”: Francois Bancon, Vice President Product Strategy, Infiniti Global

Posted on Jan 30, 2018 by

On the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we spoke to Francois Bancon, Vice President Product Strategy, Global and Jeurgen Schmitz, then, Managing Director, Middle East, about the brand, the mental Black S Project, women drivers in Saudi and a lot more… Words: Tim Ansell

Infiniti

AME: Infiniti Middle East had its first global launch at the 2017 Dubai motor show. Your comments, please…

JS: These are busy times in the Middle East for Infiniti. We launched the QX80 in Dubai, the first global launch in the Middle East which we are very proud of, and pleased that the company trusted in us to do so. There’s maybe no car in the Infiniti line-up which is ‘more UAE’ than the QX80 so it was well chosen.

Infiniti

AME: How important is it to have the Black S project, to have this car in your range? And how will you convince people to choose a super performance Infiniti, when it’s a luxury, not a performance brand?

FB: Obviously the Middle East is a nice market for performance cars — if you look around you it’s easy to see this. Blacks S is complex, we are in the first stage of development, which means validating the technology, because we are facing a breakthrough, a very significant breakthrough, regarding what a hybrid system and energy management is. This will take us approximately to the end of , which is our current schedule. We have to ask “does it work?”, “how well does it work?”, “is it feasible on the road?” — because from track to road there’s a gap in the expectation of reliability. Obviously IF we go to production — and we made no decision on this — and I don’t know when, of course we will offer it in the Middle East. The two main markets for this kind of exclusive, high performance and luxury positioning, are basically the US and the ME.

Infiniti

AME: Premium car manufacturers are offering lifetime warranties these days. How will Infiniti tackle this opportunity?

JS: You may know that just a few months ago we launched the first dedicated Infiniti used car centre close to the existing Infiniti showroom on SZR in Dubai. And of course we are launching and rolling out this certified pre-owned programme in the entire Middle East. The residual value for our cars depends on the model, depends on the model and age. But it’s a very important pillar of our mid-term strategy, so you will see this programme being rolled out in the entire region step by step. Next time when we meet we will have a minimum of one if not two more of these dedicated Infiniti pre-owned centres; it’s a key pillar of the next five years.

Infiniti

Jeurgen Schmitz, then Managing Director, Infiniti Middle East. Current Managing Director, Nissan Middle East

AME: Women will be able to drive in KSA from June 2018 – how will this affect your approach to sales there?

JS: Look the market in KSA remains one of the most important ones for us in this region. You know its 20% of passenger transport vehicles in the entire region and with the news of women being allowed to drive from June on, and driving schools available from March 1st, ladies will be getting their driving licenses as soon as they can.

So it’s an important market and becoming more important in the future. We will be prepared when this happens, with having the right offer for female drivers in the market. What we are doing now like many others, is trying to understand better the need and requests of these new customers. We know from the past that women had a major say in the purchase decision, even if they were not driving, but nobody has ever really communicated with them as we were with other customers. This will be the key question; to answer how we are doing this, what are the exact needs of this new customer group. We know it’s a huge group, roughly nine million women between 18 and 65 which are potentially able and hopefully willing to take this on. So this is ongoing – there are a lot of marketing challenges!

It will not be nine million customers of course because a few of them will still want to be driven, others will already have a large choice of cars in the household, so the research needs to be done to understand what is the real market potential. But one thing I can promise you is we will be ready June 1.

AME: Tell us about the future for EVs within Infiniti?

JS: In the Middle East we believe that electric vehicles will take over a certain portion — but will they take over the whole market? Not in the foreseeable future. I would remind you that the best-selling EV in the world in the Nissan Leaf, from our corporation. This is sometimes forgotten in the marketing stories we hear elsewhere. There will be a market for EVs, especially in Dubai which is pushing very hard but in other markets we don’t see, at least not now, that there is the political will that EVs need to come quickly. Here in the UAE we can see the political will. There was the recent announcement of the alliance and the Expo 2020 and EVs will be a key component – not delivered by Infiniti but by the Group, in Dubai. So the corporation is working on this but it will take maybe a bit longer than other parts of the world.

Infiniti

Francois Bancon, Vice President, Product Strategy, Infiniti Global

FB: The Middle East is a natural target for EVs we can see the governments around are now motivated to promote this technology which was not the case 10 years ago, perhaps because of the gasoline prices or whatever reason but now it’s completely changed and I see the me at the same level of expectation as the US or China,  which is good news for us. Electrification is a global demand. That doesn’t mean no more internal combustion engines, the most optimistic scenario regarding pure EV, depending on the agency or data you accept, grows from 13- to 20 percent of the market in 10 years time. It’s already big but it does not replace the rest of the cars. Carlos Ghosn made it clear last time – we are going to have two big parts of the market and EV will not be everything. Infiniti is of course a member of the biggest corporation / alliance, the Mitsubishi Renault Nissan alliance and of course we have EV development. Remember we were the first ones to launch a mass produced EV, the Leaf, and we still believe EV is a part of the solution, not THE solution. So obviously Infiniti is going to go this way.

We still have many different scenarios, when you go EV, Infiniti is a brand dedicated to performance and this will not change, so of course we will set the bar for EV higher than Renault or Nissan or whoever as a OEM. We will find a dedicated solution to deliver on the point promised, through an electric car. We have the solution, on paper right now and some prototypes, so I think we are in a good position. Timing wise; let us finalise the study but Infinti is going to have an electric car. By the way when we say electric car there is a battery EV there is also all the electrification of the normal powertrain and we are going to go all through this. No discussion on this.

Infiniti

Will it be the QX80? Probably not – the size of the vehicle makes the EV a bit challenging. Q70 – I’m not going to tell you exactly, we have many scenarios and Q70 is part of them. We will not go to an exclusive positioning, there is no reason to go there – we will go luxury and exclusive, we are not going for an entry level car, this is not what Ininiti is about — and we are going to prioritise performance. Is the body type more crossover or sedan – at the moment we do not know ourselves what route we will take. It’s not a technical issue, but we have the entire portfolio of Infiniti to consider, we have to position the EV as complimentary, not something just to add “just to be EV”, it must make business sense. If I refer to the GCC the SUV makes sense, if you consider China it’s very different, the US in somewhere between, so we have to make up our mind because we are making one global car.

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