Ghosn steps down as Nissan CEO, hands reins to Saikawa as focus shifts

Saikawa, formerly Nissan's chief competitive officer, was promoted to co-CEO in October. On April 1, he will become CEO and president. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
UPDATED: 2/23/17 9:24 am ET - adds detail

TOKYO -- Carlos Ghosn, the long-serving chief executive who rescued Nissan Motor Co. from bankruptcy, is stepping down as CEO, having nearly finished his latest business plan and driven the Renault-Nissan Alliance to new heights with the acquisition of Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Ghosn, who joined Nissan in 1999 from France’s Renault SA and became Nissan’s CEO two years later, will retain his position as chairman of Japan’s second-biggest automaker, the company said in a statement Thursday in Tokyo. Hiroto Saikawa, who currently serves as co-CEO and is a year older than the 62-year-old Ghosn, will become sole chief executive.

The changes are effective April 1.

Ghosn will also retain his roles as chairman and CEO of Renault and of the Renault-Nissan alliance, spokesman Jonathan Adashek said.

"There are still lots of things to be done inside the company (Renault) in order to make its growth sustainable and lasting and solid," Ghosn told Reuters in an interview.

And he will also stay on as chairman of Mitsubishi, a company brought into the alliance last October through Nissan’s purchase of a controlling stake.

At that time, Ghosn promoted Saikawa to the role of Nissan’s co-CEO.

Ghosn said his new responsibilities at Mitsubishi warranted the full handover to Saikawa.

“As Nissan’s Chairman, I will continue to supervise and guide the company, both independently and within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance,” Ghosn said in a statement.

“This planned change will also allow me to devote more time and energy to managing the strategic and operational evolution and expansion of the Alliance and ensuring that all its members benefit from the competitive advantages that its scale will deliver.”

The announcement shifts full control of Nissan to the Japanese veteran, as Ghosn steps back to more of an oversight role over an expansive automotive empire. The acquisition of Mitsubishi catapulted the alliance to the No. 4 spot in global auto sales behind Volkswagen, Toyota and General Motors, as Ghosn delivered on his promise to achieve more scale.

Ghosn hands over the reins as Nissan concludes its Power 88 mid-term business plan.

Mid-term roadmap

Saikawa will now be in charge of drawing up the next mid-term roadmap, which is expected to be disclosed sometime this year, Adashek said.

Adashek said it was too soon to rate Ghosn’s success in accomplishing the goals of Power 88. The mid-term plan officially runs through March 31.

While Ghosn came close to achieving many of his targets, some key goals are still fugitive. Nissan hasn’t quite clinched the 10 per cent U.S. market share it set out to achieve, nor the 10 per cent Canadian share or eight per cent global market share. It is also on track to miss its eight per cent operating profit margin target.

Ranking No. 4

But through the addition of Mitsubishi, the Alliance’s global volume surged by 934,013 vehicles to total 9.96 million units in 2016, making it the world’s fourth-largest auto group.

The Mitsubishi tie-up, finalized Oct. 20, completed Nissan’s 237 billion-yen (CDN $2.75 billion) purchase of a controlling 34-per-cent stake in Mitsubishi.

It also unleashed the continuing cascade of executive changes.

Saikawa is expected to now run Nissan independently as his own boss. That too fits the intent of Ghosn, who has said he prefers a Japanese successor at the helm of Nissan.

But it is unclear how much longer he may remain on the job. At age 63, Saikawa is also approaching retirement age.

Saikawa joined Nissan in 1977 and served as its chief competitive officer from 2013 to 2016. He previously had roles as the chairman of the Management Committees of the Americas and Europe, as well as the executive vice president of purchasing.

He also served as a board member of Renault between 2006 and 2016.

Ghosn, at the CES in Las Vegas in January, plans to focus on Mitsubishi. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

It also unleashed the continuing cascade of executive changes.

Saikawa is expected to now run Nissan independently as his own boss. That too fits the intent of Ghosn, who has said he prefers a Japanese successor at the helm of Nissan.

But it is unclear how much longer he may remain on the job. At age 63, Saikawa is also approaching retirement age.

Saikawa joined Nissan in 1977 and served as its chief competitive officer from 2013 to 2016. Before that he had roles as the chairman of the Management Committees of the Americas and Europe, as well as the executive vice president of purchasing.

He also served as a board member of Renault between 2006 and 2016.

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You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com -- Follow Hans on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hansgreimel

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