1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in the automotive industry?
Originally from Germany, I joined Infiniti in the Middle East in 2011 as General Manager. Prior to that, I was the Regional Director of Infiniti Central Europe responsible for the Sales and Marketing functions and development of the dealer network in 10 European markets.
I’ve been working in the automotive industry for more than 20 years now on both manufacturer and importer side.
I hold a degree in Business Economics from the University of Applied Sciences (Mainz).
2. How important is the Middle East market for Infiniti? What is this region’s contribution to your total sales at the global level?
The Middle East is considered a key market for Infiniti and the wider automotive and luxury industries. The UAE in particular remains as one of the strongest market in the region for the majority of car manufacturers.
On a global level, Infiniti has delivered over 110,200 vehicles at an increase of 7% for the first half of 2016 – record breaking performance.
Across the highly competitive EMEA region (Europe, Middle East, Africa) 16,251 Infiniti cars were sold in the first half of 2016 – up 45% compared to the results from the same period of 2015.
The strongest model in Europe was again the premium active compact Infiniti Q30, which found 6,438 customers for the first half of 2016.
Infiniti Middle East registered sales of 4,213 in the first half of the year which is the highest ever for our brand in the last 8 years.
3. What makes this market different from other key markets? Are there any factors that make it easier or tougher to do business in the Middle East?
One of the key differentiating factors in the Middle East is the regions penchant for luxury goods. Customers in the region are keen to have the latest and best of what is available in the market. At Infiniti, we always keep an eye on new trends in customer demand and try and best deliver on this through our diverse products and services.
4. There are many luxury brands jostling for space in the UAE market. How does Infiniti seek to differentiate itself from other brands?
We believe that healthy competition in the market has a positive reflection on our business. It tests our creativity and reminds us of our number one priority – which is ensuring that our customers have a premium Infiniti experience. It is vital to ensure that the customer is always getting the best out of their purchase experience. We do this through 3 key ways – the first of which is product.
As a premium car manufacturer, we endeavour to offer our customers a wide choice of new and advanced product to aid them in their purchase decision – this year we have already launched the Infiniti QX60, QX50 and the Q30.
Complementing the product is our staff – two years ago we launched Infiniti Middle East Training Academy which aims to certify Infiniti’s frontline sales staff to ensure that the customer is experiencing the in line with Infiniti’s global standards. We believe that the Infiniti Academy is playing a crucial role in our customers getting the best from Infiniti right from when they set foot into the showroom.
Last and certainly not the least is network, earlier this year we launched the first ever IREDI boutique concept in Doha, Qatar – and we will continue to expand our footprint in the region with more additions I the UAE and the rest of the GCC.
5. From a customer’s point of view, what can they expect when they buy an Infiniti vehicle?
As a premium car brand, we offer customers the chance to stand out from the crowd, from both a product as well as service standpoint.
On the product front, Infiniti’s offering features a dynamic and standout design blending the latest in technology and performance into a neat package. Our vehicles really offer our customers an alternative to luxury – i.e. a unique premium experience that is different from the other premium brands out there.
Often referred to as Infiniti’s ‘Total Ownership Experience’, our customers are usually offered with a comprehensive optional value add package that gives them the peace of mind to enjoy their vehicle. The specific packages often vary from market to market.
6. You have longstanding expertise in the automotive industry. In what ways has it changed over the years? Is technology advancing at a more rapid pace in recent years?
I think a big change in the technology is the focus on autonomous driving. When people think about the autonomous concept they usually look to the final stage as opposed to the various phases that are required to get there.
Currently Infiniti is very much a part of these ‘stages’ already existing in our vehicles coming relatively close to this futuristic fully autonomous world of driving.
In some of our vehicles, like the Q50, we have a lane departure warning and prevention feature. This means if you happen to veer outside the lane markers, on the road you Infiniti will automatically bring you back into your lane.
Then there is the predictive forward collision warning system with braking. If you come too close to a car ahead of you the Q50 slows you down and then accelerates again once the obstacle is removed without the driver having to do anything. You can choose to enable or disable these features.
At infiniti we are not at all focused toward removing the driver from the experience, but rather providing them with a suite of ‘assistant’ technology that can help them.
7. At the global level, Infiniti has been closely associated with the world of motorsports. What about at the regional level?
On a global level, Infiniti is proud to be the technical partner to the Renault Sport Formula One Team. Leveraging our expertise in hybrids, Infiniti is contributing engineering resources to the Renault Sport R.E.16 Power Unit’s Energy Recovery System (ERS), which incorporates two motor generator units and a battery.
This partnership extends to the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the region.
8. In car connectivity appears to be the name of the game in the automotive industry. How has this been reflected in Infiniti’s vehicles?
Infiniti always strives to offer unmatched levels of connectivity. For example, the all-new Infiniti Q30 has a range of technologies that give drivers ideal balance between ride and handling performance. It’s been tuned to deliver a consistent and connected feeling – linear, precise responses to driver inputs at every touchpoint give drivers a greater feeling of being ‘in-command’ at the wheel. Part of that is LCD VGA 7 Touch screen infotainment system, the voice recognition system and the Bluetooth® audio streaming with phone book functionality.
As mentioned before, the Infiniti QX50 and QX60 also offered technological advancements. The Forward Emergency Braking (FEB) with Pedestrian Detection in the Infiniti QX60 detects potential forward obstacles and assists drivers in avoiding collisions with vehicles and pedestrians, as well as reducing damage caused by collisions.
The Advanced Around View® Monitor (AVM) which includes front and rear sonar in the Infiniti QX50 for example assists drivers to park more easily allowing them to better understand the vehicle’s surroundings through a virtual bird’s-eye view from above the vehicle. It also helps the driver to manoeuvre into parking spots with more ease by viewing the vehicle’s position relative to the lines around parking spaces and adjacent objects.
9. What is the outlook for those young people who are interested in taking up automotive engineering as a course of study in the region? Can you tell us more about the response to the Infiniti Engineering Academy program?
The IEA is a very unique program, in that Engineering students from all disciplines will have the chance to earn the career opportunity of a lifetime in Formula One™ and automotive engineering, with a factory F1® team and Infiniti.
We are now in the final stages and are excited to select the finalists after a three-month global search for the best up-and-coming engineering talent. On the 25th September, we will hold the regional final, which is considered a high pressure assessment judged by senior engineers from both INFINITI and the Renault Sport Formula One Team™ who evaluate finalists on both their technical knowledge and practical skills.
We are confident that the 10 best finalists will be there to showcase their skills on the day, and more importantly that through the challenges and evaluations, the best and most capable candidate will win this incredible opportunity.
10. What are your main criteria when it comes to selecting partners for marketing initiatives? Is it solely to strengthen Infiniti’s image as a luxury brand? For example, Infiniti recently was the sole automotive partner for the Arab Luxury World conference and also sponsored the Asateer tent at Atlantis.
Our partnership process and the brands we collaborate with are carefully selected and we only partner with like-minded brands who share our values and speak the same language as our audience. The Arab Luxury World forum for example was an excellent way to represent our brand as well as share experiences with other luxury brands in the region.
11. What are your expectations for the new Q30 in the region?
Q30 is a category-defying model certain to appeal to buyers across several premium segments. It is designed for premium customers seeking urban individuality. Combining unique height and dimensions with coupe-like proportions, the Q30 conveys a ‘ready to go anywhere’ attitude while maintaining an ‘at home in the city’ versatility – perfect for those wanting to create their own unique experiences. Q30 strikes an ideal balance between ride and handling performance, having been tuned to deliver a consistent and connected feeling – linear, precise responses to driver inputs at every touchpoint give drivers a greater feeling of being ‘in-command’ at the wheel.
Q30 buyers will be those that don’t necessarily like to be defined or restricted by their choice of vehicle type or brand. We are targeting individualistic customers who are looking for a car that is at home in the city as it is on the open road. Q30’s beautiful, expressive interior is open to individual expression and personalisation, to provide a ‘made for me’ approach at the core of new luxury.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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