June 11, 2014 4:20 am JST

Automakers thinking luxe in North America

TAKASHI SUGIMOTO, Nikkei staff writer

NEW YORK -- Major automakers worldwide are strengthening their luxury car businesses in the North American market, aiming to capitalize on steadily growing demand and higher margins.

     Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will bring the Alfa Romeo brand of luxury Italian sports cars back to the U.S. this month after an absence of nearly 20 years. The two-passenger 4C will be its first vehicle here, with offerings expanded as the automaker broadens the Alfa Romeo lineup worldwide from three vehicles at present to 11 in 2016. The aim is to more than quintuple global sales volume to an annual 700,000 units in five years.

     Toyota Motor will introduce the Lexus NX compact sport utility vehicle this fall, filling a gap in its luxury nameplate's offerings in hopes of attracting new customers. It will also strengthen Lexus production, beginning U.S. output of the luxury vehicles in the summer of 2015 to join Canadian production. The Japanese automaker wants to create a stable source of earnings by reducing the effects of foreign exchange fluctuations.

     Nissan Motor is bolstering production of Infiniti luxury vehicles in the U.S. state of Tennessee. It is also considering joint production of luxury vehicles with Germany's Daimler at a new Mexican plant where Nissan would make Infinitis and Daimler would make compact Mercedes-Benzes, primarily for export to the U.S.

     To jump-start Acura sales and speed decision-making, Honda Motor in April made the brand's marketing and sales independent of the Honda brand.

     Among German automakers, BMW plans to invest $1 billion in a plant in the U.S. state of South Carolina to increase capacity 50% to 450,000 vehicles a year by 2016. Volkswagen's Audi unit will put a Mexican plant into service in mid-2016 with the intention of exporting to the U.S.

     American automakers are also on the bandwagon, with General Motors strengthening its Cadillac line and Ford Motor making a revamp of the Lincoln luxury line a priority.