Editor's note: Makoto Uchida's age has been corrected.
TOKYO – Nissan Motor Co. has tapped Makoto Uchida, head of its important China division, to be its next president and CEO, helping the scandal-tainted automaker open a new chapter after the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn and last month’s resignation of former CEO Hiroto Saikawa.
A Nissan executive with experience in joint purchasing with partner Renault, the 53-year-old Uchida ushers in a younger generation of leaders many insiders hope pave a new path.
The appointment will take place no later than Jan. 1, 2020, the company said in a statement.
His selection was announced by Yasushi Kimura, chairman of the Nissan board, and Masakazu Toyoda, director in charge of Nissan’s nomination committee, at a press press conference Tuesday evening in Tokyo. Kimura said the vote was unanimous.
“The board concluded that Uchida is the right leader to drive the business forward,” Kimura said. “We expect Uchida to lead the company as one team, immediately focus on the recovery of the business and revitalize the company.”
Uchida will take the helm from Yasuhiro Yamauchi, who has been serving as interim president since Saikawa stepped down Sept. 16. Yamauchi will stay as acting CEO until the handover.
The company also announced that Ashwani Gupta, 49, a former Nissan and Renault executive who is now COO of third alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp., will be Nissan’s new COO.
Jun Seki, 58, the engineer who currently the senior vice president in charge of performance recovery, was appointed as vice COO, reporting to Gupta. It was unclear what will happen to current vice COO Christian Vandenhende, who joined Nissan from Renault only in 2018.
Kimura and Toyoda said the three men were chosen because they have international experience, prioritize speedy decision making and represent a fresh start for the company.
“It is very important to demonstrate a new Nissan,” Kimura said. “We selected people who could represent a new Nissan in a strong way.”
Known for his unflagging work ethic and relentless focus on cost control, Uchida was described by one long-time associate who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity as a "foreigner with a Japanese face" -- direct and to the point in conversations.
Uchida and Gupta, in particular, bring a working knowledge of relations with estranged partner Renault. Uchida served as corporate vice president for alliance purchasing and also did a stint at Renault Samsung Motors, the French automaker’s South Korean unit.
One source close to Renault described the selection as "a victory for the alliance," telling Reuters that both Uchida and Gupta knew the business and were ready to help Nissan recover.
Gupta, a native of India, joined the alliance as a general manager of purchasing for Renault in India, and served as the global head of the alliance’s joint light commercial vehicle business.
Message of stability
Uchida brings a sense of stability and experience to the post as Nissan struggles to reverse plunging profits, rebuild strained relations with Renault and recover from the legal wrangling over Ghosn, who is indicted on four charges of alleged financial misconduct in Japan.
He started his career at a Japanese trading company that eventually became Sojitz Corp. and joined Nissan only in 2003. Uchida cut his teeth in joint purchasing with Renault.
Uchida has helped run Nissan’s China operations since 2018, overseeing one of the few bright spots in the company’s portfolio. In May, he was appointed chairman of the regional management committee.
Kimura said he expected the three to continue executing the mid-term business plan outlined by Saikawa, although he left open the possibility for tweaking the strategy.
Saikawa said he wanted to restore parent company operating profit margin to 6 percent in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023.
To get there Nissan said it will refresh all core models and introduce more than 20 new ones, expand the sales of electrified vehicles and triple sales of automated driving vehicles. Nissan also wants to optimize global production capacity by 10 percent and cut some 12,500 jobs worldwide.
“The most important thing for the company is the recovery plan,” Toyoda said. “Performance recovery should be completed and this is the biggest challenge that we are addressing.”
Although the Nissan board on Tuesday discussed the fate of Hari Nada, they didn’t make any announcement about the whistleblower who was instrumental last year in the downfall of Ghosn.
“Today we are making an announcement about the top leadership, so I will refrain from making comment on that matter,” Toyoda said at the press conference.
The board was set to discuss disciplinary measures against Nada, 55, who was recently implicated in a scandal at Nissan involving excess compensation through stock appreciation rights.
Nada is cooperating with Japanese prosecutors under a plea-bargaining agreement in their case against Ghosn for financial crimes, people with knowledge of the matter have told Bloomberg. A lawyer by training who studied in the U.K. and Japan, Nada is a senior vice president at Nissan and worked in the CEO’s office under Ghosn and his successor, Hiroto Saikawa. Nada is expected to be a key witness in Ghosn’s trial next year.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.