By on November 21, 2018

Carlos Ghosn - Titan intro - Image: Nissan

We’re weeks, probably months, perhaps years or even decades from learning what went down in Nissan’s Yokohama executive suite over the last few days, weeks, and months.

Nissan’s departed boss, Carlos Ghosn, who has not yet been forced out at Renault – a fact that’s certainly subject to change at any given moment – faces the prospect of prolonged jail time.

On the one hand, the harshest observers will point to CEO Syndrome, an above-the-law belief and a sense of invincibility, that precipitated a turn to horrifying criminal behaviour. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be others who see a coordinated corporate coup d’état.

Regardless of where the early verdicts land, based as they typically are on limited information and scant evidence, on this all analysts can agree: Nissan’s turnaround during Ghosn’s 19-year tenure was monumental.

These are the numbers behind the transformation.

Carlos Ghosn - IDX intro - Image: Nissan

Start with the U.S. picture. By 1998, the year before Ghosn became COO at Nissan, the brand’s U.S. market share fell below 4 percent after nearly two decades above that mark. From Nissan’s peak of 830,767 sales in 1985 (according to CarSalesBase), U.S. volume had fallen by a third. During the mid-90s alone, from 1994 to 1998, Nissan’s U.S. volume tumbled by more than a fifth.

By 2003, three years after Ghosn became Nissan president and two years after being named CEO, Nissan market share was once again back above 4 percent. In fact, Nissan’s U.S. market share increased in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and in 10 of the following 12 years. The surge culminated in better than 8 percent U.S. market share in 2016 and 2017, fulfilling Ghosn’s very publicly stated 2011 goal. Nissan reported 1,440,049 U.S. sales in 2017 (plus another 153,415 Infinitis.) That’s a 258-percent increase from the end of the pre-Ghosn area.Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn unveils redesigned Maxima “4 Door Spor - Image: Nissan

Granted, Ghosn’s insatiable quest for market share wasn’t always matched by a commensurate increase in Nissan profits. Recent cutbacks on the aggressive discounts that were required to boost market share, for example, resulted in a predictable sales downturn and a steep drop in Nissan profits.

But Nissan’s U.S. steady rise up the U.S. ranks, which was accompanied by improvements around the globe as Nissan sales rose 54 percent from a record high of 3.77 million in fiscal year 2007 to 5.79 million in 2018, wasn’t something that developed by discounts alone. Nissan’s product offensive during the Ghosn era led to a large SUV/crossover lineup in time for an SUV-crazed era; high-volume, top-tier contenders in categories as varied as the subcompact, midsize sedan, and midsize pickup categories; and eye-catching design risks in initially underpopulated segments such as the Nissan Murano and Nissan Juke.Carlos Ghosn Rogue Introduction - Image: Nissan

It’s easy in this age of sedan malaise, for example, to forget the impact Nissan had on America’s midsize car category when an upsized and powered-up Altima arrived for the 2002 model year. U.S. Altima volume jumped 72 percent between 2001 and 2005. Prior to 2006, Nissan wasn’t playing in the subcompact sandbox. But the Versa became America’s top-selling subcompact, adding 144,528 sales to the U.S. sales ledger in its best year to date. When Nissan introduced the outlandish first-gen Murano in late 2002, Ford hadn’t yet thought up the Edge and Subaru hadn’t enlarged the Outback to wagon-on-steroids proportions. But Nissan quickly had a hit on its hands, selling more than 56,000 Muranos in its first full year and averaging over 60,000 annual Murano sales during the last decade.Nissan USA annual sales chart - Image: TTAC

Heading into 2002, Nissan’s U.S. lineup consisted of only eight nameplates: 350Z, Altima, Maxima, Sentra on the car side; Frontier, Pathfinder, Quest, and Xterra on the light-truck side. By the time of economic collapse, Nissan was still pushing those models but had added the GT-R, Versa, Armada, Murano, Rogue, and Titan. Save for the Quest and an engine change resulting in the renamed 370Z, those models all exist today, along with the Kicks, Leaf, Rogue Sport, and a pair of commercial vans.

Carlos Ghosn will likely live to regret many of his life choices. But he certainly isn’t guilty of waiting around to make them.

[Images: Nissan]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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49 Comments on “What Did Nissan Accomplish During Carlos Ghosn’s Tenure?...”


  • avatar
    Null Set

    Waiting for the first post about the Clintons in 3-2-1…

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    I’m not at all clear on what Ghosn is alleged to have done; something to do with not publicizing his total pay.

    Or, no real crime except that potential investors might have been misled about how well-paid he was.

    Seems to me his only victims were some share holders, except I don’t really see how they could have been harmed. Did his pay materially detract from reported earnings etc?

    The few reports I’ve seen said nothing about misreporting his income to the tax authorities, but maybe I missed it, or maybe that’s just hinted at, and maybe full revelations later will show that as the real charges.

    • 0 avatar
      Null Set

      It’s tricky to figure out, particularly since I don’t know Japanese laws regarding corporations. In the US, executive compensation for public companies is publicly available by law, so it’s simply not possible to “hide” your compensation. Nor to deceive the government about your taxable income. Unless your company is colluding in some way to help you do that. But in that case, the company would be prosecuted as well, not just the executive. Ghosn must have found some creative way to misrepresent the full extent of his compensation for purposes of taxation. Given the international nature of his role, overseeing interlocking yet partially independent companies in foreign countries, I’m sure he found a way. Always mystified, though, by why the superwealthy need to chisel that last dime, even if it puts their liberty at risk. Narcissistic personality disorder, I guess.

    • 0 avatar
      afedaken

      C’mon man. You know. This isn’t even about the shareholders, or anyone else he may have “hurt”. Putting aside how one might feel about taxes themselves, this is entirely about the tax man wanting his due.

      • 0 avatar
        Null Set

        Actually that’s not true. Nissan is going after him separately for scamming them on his corporate perks and misusing company property. The charges against him will only grow and diversify as this develops.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      I agree that the precise nature of the charges against Ghosn is not clear at all. I also agree that this is a complex situation, given the multiplicity of players and their respective agendas. The WSJ article hints at one aspect of this, but I’m sure there is much more.

      One thing we can be sure of is that Ghosn’s tax and other reporting in Japan was not prepared by him at all, but by very expensive professionals hired for the job because they were experts in their field. Whatever happened, this was not a 2-person conspiracy.

      I also think Tim’s article is absolutely woeful. To ask what Ghosn accomplished for Nissan over many years and then focus entirely on US sales is remarkably blinkered (that’s about the kindest thing I can say). The question is valid, but this article doesn’t answer it at all.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Someone mentioned greed as a motivator in an earlier thread. I would add to that, envy. Here is a man who accomplished much more than people like that little twit Zuckerberg with his digital interactive gossip site – Ghosn wanted corresponding recognition by way of keeping score in coin of the realm.

    • 0 avatar
      Null Set

      Perhaps. Zuckerberg’s wealth dwarfs Ghosns, and always will, though. A few extra millions here and there would still leave Ghosn the pauper by comparison. And FB is hardly a gossip site. You’re confusing it with Twitter, Instagram and TTAC. FB’s influence on world culture and politics is profound, as we have seen. Ghosn, on the other hand, just sells bargain basement rattletraps to nail salon employees.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        Facebook has announced it shut down 1.2 billion fake user accounts. How many more billions are there? They are in the business of selling clicks and eyeballs. What do you suppose would happen to a bricks and mortar business, say, a car company, if they similarly goosed their production consequently misrepresenting company value? Social media will not remain un/under-regulated for much longer. Social media is a social disease, but there is as of yet no treatment.

        • 0 avatar
          Null Set

          They’re in the business of advertising and selling user data not “clicks and eyeballs”. Your profile is all they need to make money off you, not clicks or even one eyeball. You have them confused with a porn site.

          • 0 avatar
            chuckrs

            Your response is akin to saying that circulation size doesn’t matter to magazines, papers, TV programming, blogs, etc. Silly claim. Equally, if FB shows steady growth in the number of users and user profiles, then they prosper – having more data to sell makes them more valuable. The fact they have had billions of bogus users is a reason FB stock price has tanked as this has become public – off 40% from the summer. Wall Street doesn’t like being duped. Zuckerberg was just a kid with a good idea at the right time but bereft of how to avoid pitfalls like this in business. Contrariwise, Sandberg is certainly old enough to know better. The stock wasn’t a bargain at $218 and still isn’t at $132, but that doesn’t stop you from investing if you believe what you said.

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            well, long ago a facebook dropper (i seem to have had only 1 friend) i understand this selling of folks data was recently unveiled and a bit improper, no?

            and really, when you think about it, as an economy, as a nation, i would much rather say we produce hardware rather than sell people’s data.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Mildly spicy off-topic take: Twitter has had much more influence on the outside world than Facebook ever did.

        • 0 avatar
          Null Set

          If by outside world you mean Mar a Lago, you’re right.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “If by outside world you mean Mar a Lago, you’re right.”

            LOL you’re accusing ME of “taking bait?”

            Ajla makes a good point, a lot of American politicians and journalists seem to take to Twitter as their medium of communication and jabs/spats. In other countries, Ukraine comes to mind, Facebook is indeed the go-to.

  • avatar

    Ghosn created an automotive empire that is now larger than GM. In short he was a corrupt genius.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      Corrupt, eh? And you know, how exactly? Pray tell the rest of us.

      I remember they arrested American Toyota Executive (Head of Communications) Julie Hamp in Japan for smuggling in oxycodone by mail. That was in 2015.

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/tag/julie-hamp/

      They had her dead to rights. Since there is much mumbling and confusion in Nissan’s statements about Ghosn, I suppose his mere arrest is good enough for you to label him corrupt. Sure, he may turn out to be a bad ‘un, I mean look at his eyebrows for heavens’ sake! But it hardly seems a slam dunk like Hamp – who, by the way the Japanese police set free for supposed lack of evidence! Read the TTAC archive.

      • 0 avatar

        I know I am changing the subject, but 15 years ago GM was the world’s largest carmaker, now it is in 4th place. Unlike GM, Ghosn made Nissan strong in every region of the world. For example , GM got out of Europe because they decided not to compete there. For this reason PSA will eventually surpass GM as well. The real criminals are the ones that made GM an automotive also ran. Ford is even worse. Overall Nissan is in great shape. They (get this) were actually the world’s best selling make in 2017!!

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          akear,
          Your comments highlight the failure of the US auto manufacturers. I’ve been pointing this out for years. But with many on this site who can’t or don’t want to accept anything beyond the Canadian and Mexican borders is similar to the issues confronting GM and Ford.

          US vehicle manufacturers are behind the 8 Ball compared to their global peers.

  • avatar
    Null Set

    A former Audi executive in a German jail cell is feeling a bit less lonely today.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      If you’re talking about Stadler, they let him out on Halloween. With conditions. He still faces trial.

      https://macaudailytimes.com.mo/ex-audi-ceo-stadler-freed-from-jail-in-diesel-emissions-case.html

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I see Inspector Clouseau finally got him!

    Sorry, most pictures he looks just like Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus.

  • avatar
    cicero1

    Wall St Journal had an article yesterday that hinted that France v Japan national issues for control of the companies may have been going on behind the scenes. If Nissan was not taking full control of making sure their CEO complied with Japanese laws, its on Nissan’s board more than Ghosen.

    • 0 avatar
      jeoff

      I wonder if this is more of an attack on the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Cold there be a perception that its success is coming at the expense of fully Japanese companies?

      • 0 avatar
        Null Set

        Since that alliance was of mutual benefit to both France and Japan, this is highly unlikely.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        “I wonder if this is more of an attack on the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Cold there be a perception that its success is coming at the expense of fully Japanese companies?”

        Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

        I just read that Ghosn had floated merging Renault with Nissan; suddenly, his compensation package is now suspect.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Suggesting that companies and/or executives only expose corruption within their ranks in order to gain power.

      Probably true, but also pretty sad.

    • 0 avatar

      Japan never liked a foreign country running it’s corporations.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @akear: Correct.

      • 0 avatar
        Null Set

        On the contrary, Ghosn was personally very popular in Japan. I saw that when I worked there. A celebrity in fact. Manga were created about how great he was. And if his nationality had been an issue, he would never have gotten the job in the first place. Foreigners will never be the first choice of a Japanese compan for their CEO, that is certainly the case, but it does happen. And sometimes in spectacular fashion. The Japanese are like that. Very digitaru, as they say.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Nissan Frontier or Carlos Ghosn? Which will have longer tenure at Nissan? Current Nissan Frontier is 15 years old. Carlos lasted 19 years at Nissan. My money is on Carlos. Current Frontier is lasting longer than anyone expected without it’s replacement showing up. Who knows? Maybe it will still be around in 2024.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      People (on enthusiast car sites) always say that they want a basic truck, but when offered one, they don’t buy.

      (people on car sites generally don’t have the wallets to back up the orders their mouths are placing)

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        To be fair, Frontier sales have been trending upward for some years now, despite this generation not being refreshed or updated for quite some time. I’m quite a fan of them, especially with the v6+stick.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        So true. Ford could build a cheap brown diesel wagon with a manual and sell exactly 6…..despite all the fanboi pleadings.

        –On the subject of Ford and fanboi pleadings….I predict new Bronco will sell about 20k first year, and then taper substantially…and not be treated to another generation.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Um, the Frontier has been replaced several years ago, except in the US.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Getting paid by two or three companies that are somewhat incompletely linked together and located in two different countries with very different corporate cultures and tax authorities. Being a foreigner in a very xenophobic country, who saved a crown jewel company when the supposedly superior home country management screwed up over 10 years (talk about losing face in a place where it is very important to not screw up). There are so many angles that could explain why they are able and willing to go after Ghosn.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    https://www.msn.com/en-au/motoring/news/corporate-car-crash-motorings-biggest-scandals/ss-BBPZO5m?ocid=spartandhp#image=21

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