Carlos Ghosn is not a man for resting on his laurels.
While the CEO of Nissan Motor Co. continues to paint a rosy picture of revival at the Japanese automaker, he knows that the pain can return at any moment.
"Pain can come back," Ghosn told a dinner audience at the Automotive News World Congress. "But what we can do is just make sure that when you are on top of the world or very successful, you don't become complacent. You have to maintain the underdog, the challenger spirit. We have been in a near-death experience. We'll never forget the lessons from that."
One of those lessons includes taking a realistic view of the current weak yen-strong dollar exchange relationship, he said.
The dollar has been trading around ¥130 in recent weeks. A strong dollar/weak yen helps the profitability of Japanese automakers because dollar-denominated sales and profits translate into more yen when repatriated to Japan.
"The most important thing that we have to do is maintain some kind of objective foreign exchange rate that we consider between 100 and 110 yen to the dollar, and consider everything else as being temporary," he said.
"We're not saying that this is normal. We're saying that we have to be prepared for when this happens."
Ghosn said Nissan is ahead of schedule in achieving the targets of its three-year revival plan, now in the second year.
Ghosn also said he is considering candidates to succeed him after 2006, when his post-revival plan, "Nissan 180," is scheduled to be completed. The "1" stands for selling 1 million more vehicles annually in 2005 than in 2001; "8" stands for an 8 percent operating profit margin; and the "0" represents becoming debt free.
"I would say there is a high probability that (my successor) will be Japanese," he said.
In a later interview, Ghosn told Automotive News that he is determined to keep Nissan out of the incentives game.
"I have no problem in losing market share that I don't deserve," he said. "We are concentrating on profit, and we mean it."
Nissan does use incentives on some vehicles, he said, but is very selective.
"You can support from time to time products which are unprofitable because you're making a bridge before a launch," Ghosn said. "But sustaining products for a long time without profit doesn't make sense, because you're going to lose market share anyway."