Ghosn Lets Go of America



Even Superman gets rundown from too much work. Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who has been working a punishing schedule as the operating chief of both car companies, said Friday that he will give up the job of operating chief of Nissan North America.

Ghosn took on that job before he assumed the top job at Renault in 2005. Renault owns a controlling stake in Nissan. Ghosn had taken on the decision-making and operations role for North America when he wanted to tighten up slack in Nissan’s most important market outside ofJapan.


Ghosn’s move, though, comes a month after Nissan warned that it expected to post lower profits for the 2006 fiscal year, the first drop since Mr. Ghosn became its chief executive in 2001. Nissan saw a 22-percent drop in earnings in the fourth quarter of last year. At that time, Ghosn declared a “performance crisis” and promised to “introduce new energy into the management.”


Chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga, number two at Nissan after Ghosn, will continue to oversee Japan operations. But Colin Dodge, senior vice president of manufacturing for Nissan Europe, will take on Shiga's role as head of general overseas markets, including China operations. Hidetoshi Imazu, with experience in production engineering, was placed in charge of European operations. Mark McNabb recently returned to Nissan to run the global Infiniti business, having left Nissan a year ago to run marketing at Mercedes-Benz North America.


Ghosn’s announcement about his own role in North America comes a week after several other casting changes in the U.S. Christian Meunier went from VP of sales operations, Nissan Europe, to VP, model line marketing for Nissan North America. In his new role, Meunier will be responsible for model line management to ensure successful, profitable model portfolios for both Nissan and Infiniti. Jan Thompson, Vice President, Marketing for Nissan North America, became head of marketing communications. And Dave Mazur went from VP, market intelligence to head of pricing, market planning and brand management.


Nissan also said this week it is cutting production at two plants in Japan because of falling demand for its vehicles, moving from two shifts to one at each factory.


Nissan sales were off 5.3 percent last year in the U.S. , with sales of Infiniti luxury vehicles off more than 11 percent. The company was in a bit of a new product lull. Toyota and Honda both posted sales gains last year. Nissan has especially seen disappointing sales of its pickup truck, the Titan, and big SUVs along with other automakers. The company has also been undergoing a major disruption as it has moved its U.S. headquarters from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tenn. It has, as a result, turned over a huge portion of its American white-collar workforce


Ghosn also serves as the chief executive of France ’s Renault, which is in the midst of its own turnaround plan in the face of falling sales and profits, and that plan requires more of Ghosn’s day-to-day attention.


Ghosn’s responsibilities in North America will be assumed by Hiroto Saikawa, the vice president in charge of Nissan’s European operations, beginning April 1. In the statement, Mr. Ghosn said, “The priority for our new management team is to act decisively on the multiple challenges facing Nissan and to boost our overall performance in 2007.”


Besides running both automakers, Ghosn has also had a full-plate examining possible partners for mergers. Last summer, the company was in discussions with General Motors about an expansive strategic alliance. Today, the company is on the perimeter of DaimlerChrysler’s move to sell Chrysler. Ghosn has said he is not pursuing the automaker. But sources familiar with Ghosn’s strategy says the company would likely look at Chrysler next fall if no deal with private-equity firms materializes to buy the U.S. automaker and DCX is still a motivated seller.

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