YOKOHAMA, Japan — If Makoto Uchida's first car is any clue, Nissan Motor Co.'s new CEO is a man with an eye for product. It was 1993 and Uchida, then at a trading company with hardly an inkling he would someday be working at Nissan, bought the critically acclaimed Nissan 300ZX sports car.
Fast-forward a quarter century, and the former purchasing executive now runs Japan's No. 2 carmaker as it faces its biggest challenges in 20 years.
Not surprisingly, the new boss says fresh and innovative product will be the key to powering Nissan out of its scandal-tainted slump.
"I love Nissan cars," Uchida proclaimed last week in his first public comments since taking the helm.
"The most important pillar of the business transformation is growth through new products, new technologies," he said. "I want our employees to feel proud that they work for Nissan."
Uchida, who took office Dec. 1, gave his vision on stage at Nissan's world headquarters, flanked by two potent symbols of Nissan's past and future. To his left was a vintage first-generation Nissan Z car in racing green.
To his right, the full-electric Ariya crossover concept in high-tech silver. The Ariya is expected to go on sale in Japan as early as next year and land in the U.S. in 2021 as the leadoff for a new generation of product Nissan hopes will fuel a corporate renaissance.
Uchida's attempt to pitch himself from the get-go as someone with more than a drop of gasoline in his veins stood in contrast to his CEO predecessors at Nissan, who rarely spoke about their personal connections with cars. It also underscored his doctrine that real growth comes from product.
"Future growth will come through new models," he said.
Nissan has been falling behind in product development. It once was the pioneer in electric vehicles, for instance, with the release of the Leaf in 2010. It has become an also-ran as rivals pile into the segment.