Nissan COO: Still trailing Honda, despite winning sales race

YOKOHAMA, Japan – Nissan Motor Co. eclipsed Honda last year to become Japan's No. 2 automaker. But COO Toshiyuki Shiga says the company still trails where it counts: Profits.

"Honda still makes better profit," Shiga said in a Feb. 17 interview.

"I don't think we are No. 2. I never say that internally."

In 2010, Nissan sold 4.08 million vehicles globally, edging Honda's 3.39 millionCQ, to become Japan's second-best selling manufacturer behind Toyota Motor Corp., the world's No. 1.

But for the fiscal year ending March 31, Nissan expects net income of 315.0 billion yen ($3.86 billion) and operating profit of 530.0 billion yen ($6.50 billion). Honda sees net income of 530.0 billion yen ($6.50 billion) and operating profit of 620.0 billion yen ($7.60 billion).

"Nissan became No. 3 (in sales) at the end of the 1990s. At that time, it was quite a tough time for Nissan, with the financial crisis," Shiga said, adding that its finances still have a way to go.

"We are still the challengers," he said.

Shiga also downplayed any suggestion he is being groomed as a potential successor to Carlos Ghosn as CEO of Nissan. Ghosn has been CEO of Nissan since 1999, and he added to those duties in 2005 by taking the chief executive post at alliance partner Renault SA.

Shiga has been the hands-on director of daily business at Nissan since a management shuffle in 2009. And Ghosn is a long-serving CEO by Japanese standards, in where a company's boss typically hands over the reins after around five years. So how much longer will he stay?

"If you ask Mr. Ghosn, he will say, 'please ask the shareholders.'" Shiga said. "My only ambition is to contribute as much as possible to sustainable growth of Nissan. That's all."

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