31 August 2015

Japanese Premium Marques

Honda decided to launch a premium marque in 1986 - Acura - basically for the North American market. It has been sold in a few other nations but in a limited way. It doesn't even sell in Japan, although there was a plan to do so in 2008 but not carried out. Vehicles are made in Japan, the US and Canada.

Toyota followed with the Lexus brand and a similar objective. However, it became an international marque sold in over 70 countries. It was introduced into Japan in 2005, while before that Lexus cars were sold under the Toyota brand. Vehicles are made in Japan and Canada.

Nissan was last to join the action with its Infiniti. It aimed at North America and some other lands, but the latter with not much gusto. It is not offered in Japan but models are sold as Nissan cars instead. Recently the focus has shifted to expanding Infiniti, with production in China and the UK in the beginning and end of 2015 respectively, in addition to existing production in Japan and the US.

Below are the three marque's sales in the USA from selected years.

Year Lexus % Acura % Infiniti % Total

Start 1989 1986 1990 Sales

1990 63,534 28 138,384 61 23,960 11 225,878

2000 206,037 48 142,681 33 78,351 18 427,069

2010 229,329 49 133,606 29 103,411 22 466,346

2014 311,389 52 167,843 28 117,330 20 596,562

Chart summary: Acura was first in during 1986 and had most of the sales early on as you would expect, but it's share has reduced since. Lexus soon went past Acura and has stayed well in front. Infiniti has always been the smallest of the three and in 2014 still only had 20% of the Japanese premium sales in the US. 

Progress. None of the brands here have gone the way of more models in every niche conceivable. There has been a cautious approach to any global aspirations too. I associate the Japanese car industry as proactive in marketing but in the premium area a lack of that has been shown. 

Brand Summary:

I see Lexus slowly increasing it's model range and markets it sells in. Slow and steady. 

Infiniti will be much more active in expanding, as it is clearly an under-utilised asset for Nissan and management want to change that. It will be a challenge to take market share in the premium arena but can be done if handled well. 

Acura wants to make more exciting cars but otherwise seems happy with the status quo. Will Infiniti inspire a change of thought?

PS. In a brief pool taken on the site had four people preferring Infiniti, two Lexus and none Acura. A small sampling but I was surprised the smallest of the three won. Perhaps the push by the owners of Infiniti is lifting its profile.

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