Q&A: Francois Bancon

Infiniti’s vice-president of product strategy explains how the premium marque will expand its market share and what technologies will be critical to its success

Infiniti remains a small marque at present – what’s the business’s strategy to grow?
Infiniti is first and foremost a brand strategy. Our priority is to be credible in the premium segment, which is not a small thing to do. Because we are small, we still need to improve awareness. Then the second part is the technology. You can see the powertrains, the hybrid technology – that, by the way, we have to rename because we use hybrid as a power booster. And we have to develop some plug-in hybrid technology. Not only for China because of regulation, but also because it fits well. We call this ‘smart power’. This is a priority for the future. And, finally, autonomous drive and connectivity remain high priorities.

Infiniti appears to have the V6 gasoline engine at its core – is that something that can continue?
The V6 gives the best compromise between packaging, fuel efficiency and performance. So we are a V6 company, but we are not only a V6 company. We’ve got the launch soon of a downsized, high-performance four-cylinder – because in some countries it doesn’t make sense to put the V6 on the table. But we are set on on a rear-wheel-drive car, and the V6 remains our core business.

What part will autonomous technology play in Infiniti vehicles?
The problem when you talk about autonomous drive, in all the research we did, is that, because of the testing Google is doing, everybody thinks it’s a driverless car. Driverless cars aren’t Infiniti. We have to find a way to use this technology to empower the driver, to make the drive better, to experience the performance – and this is the direction we are working in.

One way that Infiniti has managed to grow is by platform sharing. The Q30, for example, shares a platform with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Will you continue with this strategy, or do you have to change your approach?
Economy of scale is crucial for us because even if we grow we are still small, so platform sharing with Daimler is one approach. Nissan is another. What we don’t want is to be forced to compromise because of sharing. So when the share’s a win-win, we get what we want and the volumes are up, so everybody is happy with the cost. That’s fine. The entire world is sharing everything – 50% of the cars you see around you share the same components. So the more we can share, the better it is, but share our way – because the most dangerous thing for Infiniti, as we are growing and intend to be credible in the premium world, is to compromise on the key drivers that we are hoping to push. But we are open. Look at what we do in Formula One, as well. We are going into F1 not as a sponsor, but as a partner to develop the car. I think that’s a good example where we can maximise synergy in a win-win collaboration. 

The consumer electronics industry is pushing the automotive industry to integrate more functionality in vehicles. Other premium OEMs are working closely with electronics firms – is that an avenue that you think Infiniti should take, too?
We are having collaborations, or more exactly discussions, with Google, Apple, LG and all these big providers. We are discussing with many people, but what is happening is not clear. I don’t see anything concrete to support the customer experience. So we’re going to be humble. We are progressing – we haven’t taken the advantage, but we aren’t late either. I don’t think anybody knows exactly what’s going to happen, but we have to be ready to be there.

tags: Infiniti