Infiniti gets daredevil CEO, Asia remains in focus

Krueger - picture courtesy

Nissan did not lose much time plugging the holes left by the sudden departures of Infiniti-chief Johan de Nysschen and Infiniti chairman Andy Palmer. Nissan hired BMW’s sales chief for Germany, Roland Krüger, and will dispatch him to Nissan’s Hong Kong headquarters, where he will assume the role as CEO once the Germans let him out of his contract.

Krüger negotiated an important concession: He will report directly to Carlos Ghosn. De Nysschen reported to Infiniti chairman Andy Palmer. With Andy gone, the decision came easier.

De Nysschen tendered his resignation in July to become CEO of Cadillac. Andy Palmer assumed his role, but not for long. A month later, Palmer himself jumped ship to become chief of Aston Martin. Both defections came as utter surprises to the HQs in Yokohama and Paris, and headhunters were scrambled to find proper replacements.

The choice of Krüger provides a window into Nissan’s strategy for Infiniti.

Like most suppliers of premium brands, Infiniti seeks to get some of the German pixie dust that seems to empower its luxury makers. De Nysschen (Audi) out, Krüger (BMW) in. De Nysschen was a veteran of the brand separation wars that gave Audi its stature in the VW empire. Krüger comes from standalone BMW, and will have to learn to navigate the maze at Nissan.

Like de Nysschen, Krüger has extensive experience in Asia. De Nysschen was Audi chief in Japan before heading Audi USA. Krüger was chief of BMW Japan, and headed the Product and Price Planning area for the Asia-Pacific, Africa and East Europe region at BMW. The main thrust of Infiniti remains China. An opening of the Japanese market to Infiniti proper is likely.

There is one thing Krüger has in common with Tokuo Fukuichi, the flamboyant chief of Infiniti. Both are designers. Krüger started his career in 1992 as an interiors and exteriors designer for Mitsubishi Motors, then changed to Daimler as a senior designer SMART interiors, before finding his true calling in sales and planning.

Both are daredevils. Krüger is the first German to ski to the geographical South Pole. Fukuichi is known to take immense fashion risks, such as appearing at the NX launch in Tokyo in skinny green pants, that made him look like a relative of Kermit.