Nissan’s Infiniti brand to move back to Japan from Hong Kong: document

BEIJING (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co’s premium brand Infiniti is relocating its headquarters back to Japan from Hong Kong, its home since 2012, to create “more operational efficiencies” with its parent company, according to a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

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The move planned for mid-2020, and expected to be publicly announced later on Wednesday, will help the Japanese automaker cut costs amid a slump in its global earnings in the year ended March 31.

“The relocation will further integrate (Infiniti) with global design, research and development and manufacturing functions based in Japan,” Nissan said in the statement, adding that Infiniti would continue to “operate independently”.

The move also was “crucial” for Nissan to follow through on its strategy to electrify the Infiniti lineup, the document said, with plans for every premium model launched from 2021 to be either all-electric or “e-Power” hybrid.

A Nissan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while there was a “fair amount of platform and other base technology sharing” between Infiniti and the main volume brand Nissan, “there could be more”.

Nissan’s global operating profit plunged 45% in the last fiscal year and would likely drop another 28% to “rock bottom” in the current one, according to company filings earlier this month.

Infiniti’s move back to Japan will reverse a decision made under ousted leader Carlos Ghosn to dilute the premium brand’s Japanese origins in order to foster a more global image.

Its Hong Kong headquarters has about 180 employees who were told about the move back to Yokohama earlier on Wednesday, according to the Nissan official.

The Hong Kong headquarters and the global image it was intended to promote were seen as critical for Infiniti to make inroads in China, where being Japanese can sometimes be a handicap because of historical animosities.

In 2012, Infiniti and other Japanese brands took a battering in the wake of diplomatic spats over disputed islets known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

Since then, Japan’s bilateral relationship with China has steadily improved and Japanese automakers including Nissan and Toyota are seeing their businesses expand, even as China’s overall auto market has slumped over the past year.

Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Stephen Coates