(Adds context on brand, rivals)
By Laurence Frost and Naomi Tajitsu
DETROIT, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor Co. plans to transform its upscale Infiniti brand of vehicles into a primarily electrified offering, Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa said on Tuesday.
All new Infiniti models launched from 2021 will be either electric or so-called “e-Power” hybrids, Saikawa told the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.
The announcement revives plans for a luxury electric offering that Nissan first touted with a 2012 Infiniti show car, but later scrapped over profitability concerns. That left the road clear for Tesla’s Model S, introduced the same year.
“We are going to make Infiniti the premium and highly electrified brand,” Saikawa said on Tuesday.
Nissan and alliance partner Renault took an early lead in battery-powered cars with models such as the 2011 Leaf, still the world’s top-selling electric vehicle.
However, Tesla has hogged the limelight in recent years, while German carmakers are leading a $90 billion wave of investment in electric and plug-in hybrid cars.
Nissan dropped the earlier electric Infiniti program in mid-2014 over concerns it would threaten the financial goals in its “Power 88” mid-term plan, according to people involved in those discussions. The company ended up missing its 8 percent margin target anyway, in fiscal 2017.
Nissan is one of a number of Japanese carmakers seeking to jump-start a higher-end brand. Toyota is launching a revamped Lexus LS flagship, while Honda has been redesigning its Acura line in the hope of boosting sales.
In the United States, Infiniti’s sales rose 11.3 percent last year in a light vehicle market that was down 1.5 percent overall, while Acura deliveries fell by 3.9 percent and Lexus by 7.6 percent. (Reporting by Laurence Frost and Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Sandra Maler and Rosalba O‘Brien)