Nissan named Makoto Uchida its new CEO, a somewhat surprising choice in that he joined the automaker in mid-career, but he is seen as a supporter of Nissan’s alliance with Renault.
Most recently he led Nissan’s joint venture in China.
Nissan’s board of directors also promoted Ashwani Gupta to chief operating officer. Previously he held that same title with Nissan partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Jun Seki, who was considered a candidate for the CEO job, will become vice chief operating officer.
The second largest Japanese automaker is in the midst of a financial and cultural turnaround, following last November’s arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn on charges of financial misconduct, which he continues to deny.
Ghosn was charged with illegally enriching himself by about $5 million. Nissan also faces charges of underreporting Ghosn’s compensation by 9.1 billion yen, or about $85 million, over 10 years.
Last month, Hiroto Saikawa, who succeeded Ghosn stepped down after an audit that was launched in the wake of the Ghosn’s firing implicated Saikawa and other Nissan executives. Specifically, the audit found that Saikawa inflated his compensation by 47 million yen ($440,000), allegedly by altering the terms of a bonus.
While Uchida, 53, didn’t come to Nissan until 2003, he is seen as having a positive relationship with French automaker Renault, which owns 43% of Nissan in an alliance that Ghosn led for about two decades. Nissan owns about 15% of Renault, but has no voting rights.
“Strong leadership is required,” Yasushi Kimura, Nissan’s chairman, said at a news conference. “Group leadership, where they all support each other, will be more transparent.”
A source close to Renault described Uchida’s promotion to Reuters as “a victory for the alliance.
Ghosn, before the scandal broke, was working toward a full merger of Renault and Nissan, but some Nissan executives resisted the effort.
Further complicating the matter was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)’s proposal in May to merge its business with Renault. That idea fizzled when the French government, which holds a 15% stake in Renault, announced it could not decide quickly on the proposal.
Meanwhile, Nissan’s financial performance has fallen below investors’ expectations for the past year.
In July, the company said its profit for the period ended June 30, fell about 94.5% from a year earlier, and global sales fell nearly 7%. It also said it would lay off up to 12,500 workers. These cost cutting moves come as global auto sales are falling and manufacturers are spending heavily on technologies such as self-driving cars and electrified powertrains, the profitability of which remains uncertain.
An associate of Uchida’s described the new CEO to Reuters as un-Japanese in his management style, or “very direct in his language, to the point, easy to understand.”
He speaks fluent English and worked directly with Renault on purchasing matters.
Before coming to Nissan in 2003, Uchida worked for Nissho Iwai, now owned by the trading house Sojitz. He graduated from Doshisha University in Kyoto with a degree in theology.