By on February 23, 2017

Carlos Ghosn (Image: Nissan)

Carlos Ghosn, the aggressive figurehead who brought a nosediving Nissan back from the brink, is stepping down as CEO after 16 years on the job.

The industry titan will remain CEO of Renault, where he staged a similar turnaround, and will continue to serve as chairman of Nissan, Renault and lowly Mitsubishi — the latter company being added to the alliance last year. Apparently, the decision to step down was prompted by Mitsubishi’s deeply-ingrained woes. In order to work some Nissan-style magic on the struggling automaker, Ghosn needed to hand over the reins.

Meanwhile, a man who stuck with Nissan for 40 years has seen his loyalty pay off.

Ghosn named Hiroto Saikawa as his co-CEO in October. Now, the 63-year-old veteran — who was elevated to the role of chief competitive officer in 2013 — has his hand on the tiller of the company. Saikawa apparently has the same shrewd, budget-minded outlook as Ghosn, though the speed of his elevation surprised some industry observers.

“The timing is a bit surprising,” Takeshi Miyao, Asia managing director at consultancy Carnorama, told Reuters. “It appears Ghosn has decided very quickly that Saikawa is the right person to lead the company.”

Ghosn says that’s anything but the case. The departing CEO claims he’s known for a while who’s the right person for the job.

“There’s a moment when you have to pass the baton to someone else,” Ghosn told Bloomberg. “I’ve always said I would love to have a Japanese to be my successor and Saikawa-san is somebody I have been grooming for many years.”

Saikawa will take on the full responsibilities of his title come April 1.

With Nissan and Renault humming along in good shape, Ghosn will have his hands full dealing with Mitsubishi. The automaker, which handed over a 34-percent controlling stake to the alliance as a lifeline, suffered a disastrous fuel economy scandal in its home country last year. Mitsubishi revealed it had overstated gas mileage on a number of vehicles for years, forcing the resignation of president Tetsuro Aikawa. Its reputation — and its stock — plunged.

One of Ghosn’s first moves after adding the automaker to the alliance’s fold was to send Nissan’s trusted research and development head, Mitsuhiko Yamashita, to serve as Mitsubishi’s tech chief.

Rebuilding consumer confidence isn’t something that happens overnight, nor is the tedious process of developing new models based on modern architecture. Mitsubishi’s American sales base, which all but disappeared after the recession, needs rebuilding. Still, Ghosn claims “massive” changes are on the way.

[Image: Nissan]

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