PARIS Nissan's (7201.T) upscale Infiniti division expects the global premium car market to grow 8 percent next year as strong U.S. demand offsets flat western European sales, brand chief Johan de Nysschen said.
De Nysschen was speaking ahead of a Tuesday announcement that Infiniti's model line-up is to be renamed as it pursues a bigger share of European and Chinese luxury car sales.
"With the global market expanding from the U.S. where we are strong, that bodes well for us," he said in a telephone interview.
The Japanese automaker's plan to turn Infiniti into a major global premium brand hinges on production in Europe and China backed by an expanded range of models and engines, some developed in a partnership between Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and the Renault-Nissan alliance.
Infiniti, so far manufactured almost exclusively in Japan, is simplifying its vehicle names as it prepares to expand the line-up, it said on Tuesday.
Beginning with 2014 models going on sale in the second half of next year, future and existing Infiniti cars will carry the prefix "Q" followed by a number broadly reflecting its size, the company said. Crossover and SUV names will begin "QX".
A new mid-sized Q50, which will be shown at the Detroit auto show in January, will replace the brand's G sedan. The sports coupe variant will become the Q60.
The changes will "promote consumer familiarity with our model range as we expand the portfolio", the company said.
Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, who also heads French parent Renault (RENA.PA), has pledged to build Infiniti vehicles in China and a new premium compact sedan in Europe.
The European car will face some tough competition, said IHS Automotive analyst Ian Fletcher, citing Daimler's Mercedes A-Class, the 1-Series from BMW (BMWG.DE) and A3 from Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) Audi.
"It's going to be up against the killer vehicles of the premium market," he said, adding that Infiniti's European market penetration remains far "below niche".
According to IHS forecasts, the situation will get worse before it gets better.
The consulting firm predicts fewer than 3,000 Infiniti deliveries in Europe this year and a further decline in 2013, compared with more than 120,000 vehicles sold in the United States.
(Additional reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by David Cowell)