Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn, who has led the Japanese automaker for the past 16 years, will step down to hand over the helm to a long-time company veteran. Hiroto Saikawa, currently co-CEO, will be the sole chief executive officer from April 1. Saikawa, a 40-year Nissan veteran, has served as co-CEO since last November after the automaker took a controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors. Prior to that, he served as chief competitive officer, and also currently heads the auto industry lobby in Japan.
The change in leadership comes just as Nissan and group automakers Mitsubishi Motors and Renault try to leverage their combined scale as one of the world’s top-producing carmakers to compete with automakers and technology companies to develop self-driving cars and lower-emission vehicles.
The announcement ends years of speculation over when Ghosn would relinquish the top job at Nissan, Japan’s No. 2 automaker, to focus on French alliance partner Renault SA, whose investors have grumbled that he was stretched too thin leading two major automakers.
Ghosn in December added a third chairmanship at Mitsubishi Motors, which joined the automaker alliance last year following Nissan’s acquisition of a controlling stake in the troubled Japanese automaker. He will remain as chairman of all three Alliance companies, and as CEO of the Renault Group, keeping him in the top position of an automaker group which has joined the ranks of Toyota Motor and Volkswagen as a producer of around 10 million vehicles annually.
“Having recently taken on new responsibilities at Mitsubishi Motors … I have decided that the time is right for Hiroto Saikawa to succeed me as Nissan’s CEO,” Ghosn said in a statement.
“As Nissan’s chairman, I will continue to supervise and guide the company, both independently and within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance,” he said, adding that the move would allow him to devote more time to running the alliance.
By stepping down, Ghosn, who is known in the auto industry as “Le cost killer, will most likely be able to focus on further leveraging the scale of the automaker alliance to lower costs for production, procurement and R&D.
Ghosn began his career at Michelin Tires in France, moving on to Renault, where he oversaw a turnaround of the French automaker. From there, he came to Nissan in 1999, leading the Japanese automaker’s revival from a debt-laden company which had been in the red for most of the 1990s to Japan’s No. 2 selling automaker. Later on in 2001, He became the company’s CEO.