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Nissan new CEO reaffirms alliance, promises revival

by Ace Damon
Nissan logo at a Nissan car gallery in Tokyo

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TOKYO –
Nissan's new chief executive Makoto Uchida reaffirmed on Monday the importance of the Japanese automaker's alliance with the French Renault, which is trying to put its financial scandals behind it.

A day after taking office, Uchida told reporters he would emphasize transparency and work to restore Nissan Motor Co.'s credibility.

He repeatedly acknowledged that the company was in an "extremely severe situation."

Uchida, who is also president of Nissan, takes control in a time of crisis, with sales and profits falling after its former president, Carlos Ghosn, was arrested last year on several charges of financial misconduct.

Ghosn denies irregularities. His trial has not yet begun, and the scandal hangs like a shadow over Nissan.

Uchida took over after Ghosn's successor, Hiroto Saikawa, was arrested in a scandal of his own, centering on dubious incomes. Saikawa announced in September that he was leaving office.

Analysts say hopes are high in Uchida and his new team will lead a revival at Nissan. But uncertainties remain and the effort is likely to take time.

"I will definitely drive Nissan as CEO," said Uchida, onstage next to a Z sports car, a symbol of Nissan's proud history.

He said previous management made the mistake of promoting a corporate culture that encouraged unrealistic goals to be set, although Nissan engineers and workers were very talented.

He said the Nissan Way, as described by Ghosn and Saikawa, will be revised, but said target details are not yet ready to be released.

But he emphasized that the alliance with Renault and small Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors Corp. it must remain strong, deepening cooperation but respecting each other's independence "as equal partners".

Janet Lewis, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Securities Japan, said Uchida appears to be popular with the company and has experience with the Renault alliance and the Chinese market, where Nissan is doing well.

Although he has no experience in the US, Uchida MPs have this experience, Lewis said.

A recovery will probably take several years.

"I find it naive to think that anyone can change Nissan within a year," she said.

She said Nissan lagged behind in product development, a problem that goes back to the years under Ghosn. It's up to the new leadership team to fix it.

"We believe investors should remain on the sidelines until there is more evidence that the recovery is on track," she said.

Analysts say Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi need to maintain their alliance and should cultivate a more positive relationship.

Mitsubishi was brought into the alliance after a series of scandals, and Ghosn's problems coincided with growing friction with Nissan's closer integration with Renault.

Development and research platforms, the basic parts on which vehicles are built, are being shared among alliance members. It would be almost impossible to leave without drastic consequences, analysts say.

Jefferies analyst Takaki Nakanishi said Uchida and his new team will try to show that the company is turning over a new sheet, perhaps even disclosing its own plans by May.

"Although the management policies of the new executive team are indeterminate at this time, they are likely to involve the development of a new business revitalization and shift to an accommodative stance in the relationship with Renault," said Nakanishi.

Ghosn said other Nissan managers conspired with the Japanese government and prosecutors to arrest him on false charges as part of a plan to prevent Ghosn from working on a more complete merger between Nissan and Renault.

Prosecutors insist they have an affair.

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