Nissan's CEO Is Going All In

Photo: AP

Nissan has a new-ish CEO in Makoto Uchida, who is trying to clean up the mess left behind in the wake of former CEO Carlos Ghosn’s completely inconspicuous departure. Uchida told shareholders Tuesday that if he couldn’t turn things around, “you can fire me immediately,” in a meeting The Wall Street Journal described as “rowdy.”

“Rowdy” is a word my late grandfather still had in circulation in the 1990s to describe my brother and I. Even then it felt dated, but, anyway, let’s cut to the tape.

“I’ve never heard of you,” said one shareholder. Another said Mr. Uchida’s plan to announce new restructuring steps in May didn’t show enough urgency. “I think that’s a bit late,” said the second shareholder. “The share price is really way down and all the shareholders are anxious.”

[...]

One shareholder at the meeting suggested Nissan offer a $US14 ($21) million bounty for anyone who could bring Mr. Ghosn back to Japan to face trial after his escape in December. Nissan directors didn’t directly address the idea, but a director told shareholders the company would continue to pursue Mr. Ghosn for civil damages.

Spicy stuff. The funniest moment for my money, though:

Shareholders lobbed criticism at Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, who is also a Nissan director. He apologised for riding in a Toyota minivan on a trip to Japan last summer, saying a third party rented the vehicle and it wouldn’t happen again.

I can’t tell who in this situation deserves less, since to be a shareholder of a company that hasn’t done a single interesting thing in over a decade seems like an exercise in driving yourself mad, but I digress.

The upshot of all of this is that there will probably be some cuts to Nissan’s offerings in the U.S. I’m guessing, for instance, that Nissan’s sedans might not be long for this world, or at least for this country.

Per Automotive News, who was also at the shareholder meeting:

Uchida pleaded for patience saying his team was focused on lasting results. Already, he noted, Nissan is reining in costs amid falling sales. The actions include a round of voluntary buyouts across Nissan’s U.S. operations, but Uchida hinted more drastic cuts are on the way.

“The plan is underway today, fast,” Uchida said. “The direction we are following is not wrong... We are going to reduce our expenses in North America with no taboos whatsoever.”

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He said that Nissan will unveil the plan in May after consulting with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi. He said that may mean dropping certain products or regional businesses and leaning more on Nissan’s partners.

Nissan posted its first quarterly loss in over a decade last week, and unlike a lot of times with automakers, when that is due to some big one-time charge, Nissan’s was mostly because sales in the U.S. are cratering. Uchida’s plan for “no taboos” suggests to me, like I said, that the sedans might have targets on their back, but possibly also Titan, Frontier, and 370Z too. Get them while you can, I guess.

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