Nissan Motor Co. named the head of its China joint venture as chief executive officer, as the carmaker looks to heal divisions caused by its former chairman’s arrest and repair fraught relations with partner Renault SA.
Makoto Uchida, 53, will work alongside Ashwani Gupta, who was named chief operating officer while Jun Seki, the former chief of Nissan in China, will become deputy chief operating officer, the board said Tuesday.
Nissan’s third boss in as many years will need to address deteriorating profits and strained relations with Renault as well as executing a massive restructuring.
Nissan’s relationship with its French partner in a global alliance with Mitsubishi Motors was rocked by the arrest nearly one year ago of their former leader, Carlos Ghosn, for financial crimes, which he has denied.
Uchida ran Nissan’s joint venture in China. Like many major automakers, Nissan counts the country as its single-biggest market, contributing almost a third of its operating income in recent years. The executive joined Nissan from Nissho Iwai Corp. in 2003, and has curried the favor of Renault because of his collaboration with the French automaker on joint procurement, the people said.
Known for his overseas experience, Uchida has also worked for Renault Samsung in South Korea. He studied theology at Doshisha University, an unusual background for someone in the auto industry.
The Nissan board had been under pressure to select a new leader at a critical time for Nissan, which reported decade-low profits and announced 12,500 job cuts as it seeks to turn itself around. Auto sales are decelerating across the globe and new technologies from self-driving cars to electrification are disrupting the industry.
“There is restructuring to be done at home and abroad, new vehicle development needs to speed up, while management coordination with Renault and efforts to improve profitability are in disarray,” Koji Endo, an analyst at SBI Securities Co., said before the news of the appointments. “There are so many things to do.”
Gupta was one of the contenders for the top job favored by Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, given that he’s been seen as a supporter of the three-carmaker alliance. He was born in Dehradun, India, and graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru Engineering College, India, and obtained a diploma from INSEAD, the French business school.
The 49-year-old started his career in 1992 in engineering and purchasing in the private sector and later moved to management positions with Honda Motor Co. in India and in Japan in 1996. In 2006, Gupta became general manager of purchasing at Renault India in Mumbai, and in 2008 moved to the Renault Nissan Purchasing Organization in France as global supplier account manager for braking systems.