The move comes as Infiniti grapples with collapsing sales in Canada. The brand sold just 820 vehicles in the country in the second quarter of 2020, down 71 per cent from a year earlier, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit. Through June, sales were down 61 per cent from a year earlier to 2,255 units sold.
Infiniti was particularly hard hit during the pandemic. Across all brands, it fared better than only Chrysler, which saw sales fall 77 per cent in the second quarter, and Jaguar, which fell 74 per cent. Second-quarter sales across all brands were down 45 per cent from a year earlier.
It’s a daunting challenge for Rhind, who was previously the executive director of marketing at Nissan Canada. He swapped jobs with Adam Paterson as the parent company looked to “further revitalize” its business in Canada.
Rhind, who grew up in Thornhill, Ont., near downtown Toronto, spent much of his first several weeks on the job reaching out to Infiniti dealers nationwide and working through what the company’s plans for Infiniti mean for Canada.
“I wanted to talk about how important Infiniti is within that transformation plan,” he told Automotive News Canada in late June. “This is going to continue to be the premium, luxury side of the Nissan Motor Corp.”
In June, sibling publication Automotive News reported that under the company’s plans to move Infiniti vehicles onto Nissan platforms, its rearwheel-drive coupes and sedans — such as the Q50, Q60 and Q70 — could die off, replaced by a Nissan platform that accommodates the company’s e-Power hybrid setup. The first vehicles under the new approach should debut by 2023.
“We will bring back Infiniti as Nissan-plus in terms of product and technology,” Nissan COO Ashwani Gupta told Automotive News. “Infiniti will be great again.”
Infiniti’s version of Nissan’s e-Power hybrid technology will be crucial to setting the brand apart from its mass-market sibling, Rhind said.
“We’re developing something specific for Infiniti that will deliver on a premium customer’s expectations in terms of power, performance and quiet and operation overall,” Rhind said. “We’re not going to focus on just one direction or another. We’ll still offer internal-combustion engines, but we’ll be focused on the Infiniti version of e-Power.”
Rhind said the company is also examining what premium retail might look like in the future as many consumers opt to do more of the car-shopping process at home, especially as the pandemic keeps some away from dealerships.
“The feeling is that things are permanently changing,” Rhind said, with offerings such as contactless test drives and deliveries continuing even after the pandemic subsides.
Attention to detail will be crucial to maintaining a premium experience for customers even if they do not go into a store, he said.
“It gets into how we can arrange things like a test drive at home or bringing the car to you, going that extra mile, and is expected in a premium experience.”
Shifts in consumer expectations could eventually change the look of Infiniti dealerships, Rhind said, though major changes wouldn’t take place for years.
“Potentially, maybe it does mean that in a few years we have some smaller spaces or a different version of what they look like, he said. “But that’s still several years away before we evolve that way.”