Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Osamu Masuko’s tenure with Mitsubishi Motors. Before 2004, he was with Mitsubishi Corp.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. appointed the head of its Indonesian business as its next CEO, while current chief Osamu Masuko will relinquish the title on June 21 but remain chairman.
Takao Kato, 57, joined Mitsubishi in 1984, and he held various positions in Russia and Nagoya, Japan, before named president of Mitsubishi's Indonesia unit in 2015. He will take the helm as the automaker navigates slowing demand for cars, global trade frictions and the need to develop new technologies.
Indonesia is Mitsubishi's second-largest market after China, according to LMC Automotive data, with nearly 143,000 units sold in 2018. "Last year was quite successful with the launch and success of the Xpander MPV," said Jeff Schuster, LMC's president of global forecasting. The brand's Indonesian sales have grown 86 percent compared with 2015, the year Kato arrived.
The automaker announced the moves early Friday in Japan.
Masuko, 70, a 47-year veteran of Mitsubishi group companies, became Mitsubishi Motors' president in 2005, and he was named chairman and CEO in 2014.
U.S. sales of Mitsubishi — which had plunged from a peak of 345,111 in 2002 to 53,986 just seven years later — rose each year under Masuko as CEO. Riding a hot U.S. market, shedding its sporty-car persona and launching a crossover offensive, the brand sold 118,074 vehicles in 2018, and sales are up 12 percent through the first four months of this year.
Masuko also shuttered the company’s long-underutilized Normal, Ill., factory — its only North American assembly plant. Today, it is occupied by electric vehicle startup Rivian.
Masuko had driven Mitsubishi to record profit after years of losses, but his work was derailed in 2016 when the company admitted to cheating on fuel-economy ratings for several nameplates sold in Japan.
That opened the door for the CEO's most noteworthy moment, later that year, when he engineered a deal between Mitsubishi and Renault-Nissan that allowed Carlos Ghosn's alliance to take a controlling stake in the financially troubled automaker. The new partnership outlined several areas of cooperation, including joint production and purchasing, platform sharing and technology development.
Ghosn also could lean on Masuko's corporate turnaround experience.
The alliance was thrown into turmoil last year when Carlos Ghosn was arrested on allegations of financial misconduct. After Ghosn's subsequent ouster, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi are working to find a path forward.
Ghosn, from his jail cell in Tokyo, said he had been planning to merge the three automakers in a way that ensured "autonomy under one holding company." On Feb. 1, Masuko joined Nissan in rebuffing that notion: "I don't even consider it as one of the options. I think it would be difficult to have management on an equal footing under such a structure."
Laurence Iliff, Omari Gardner and Reuters contributed to this report.