Scandal-hit Nissan names new chief executive

Makoto Uchida had previously been head of the company's Chinese business

Nissan Motor Co. senior executive Makoto Uchida speaks to media at Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in Shanghai, China April 16, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Picture taken April 16, 2019.  Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
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Nissan Motors named the head of its Chinese business as its next chief executive on Tuesday, picking an executive known for close ties to top shareholder Renault and for a frank, straight-talking manner that has marked him as an outsider.

By selecting senior vice-president Makoto Uchida, Nissan's board has gone with someone slightly at odds with its traditional corporate culture. He joined the car maker mid-career in 2003, unlike most top Japanese executives, who spend their entire working lives at one company.

Known for his unflagging work ethic and relentless focus on cost control, Uchida was described by one long-time associate who spoke on condition of anonymity as a "foreigner with a Japanese face" — direct and to the point in conversations.

He will be joined by newly-appointed chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta, currently COO of junior partner Mitsubishi Motors, in trying to revive a business hit by plunging profits, management scandal and tensions with Renault.

Japan's second-largest car maker has been shaken by the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn last year on allegations of financial misconduct, which he denies, and the more recent departure of chief executive Hiroto Saikawa after he admitted to being improperly overpaid.

How the 58-year-old Uchida will turn the company around — particularly its business in the United States — and repair ties with Renault will now be a focus for investors.

"Strong leadership is required," Yasushi Kimura, Nissan's chairman, told a news conference. "Group leadership, where they all support each other, will be more transparent."

One source close to Renault described the selection as "a victory for the alliance", saying that both men knew the business and were ready to help Nissan recover.

Before his ouster, Ghosn had been working on a plan for a full merger of Renault and Nissan, but had met resistance in Japan, which is concerned about French influence in the alliance. The French government is a major Renault shareholder.

Relations were further strained this year when Renault held abortive merger talks with Fiat Chrysler.

Nissan's former China chief Jun Seki, widely seen as one of the top contenders for the CEO job, will be vice COO, the company said.

The new appointees will take up their positions by January 1.

The Uchida associate described him as a "Japanese person who isn't really Japanese inside. Very direct in his language, to the point, easy to understand."

He is extremely proficient in English and worked with Renault, which owns 43.4 per cent of Nissan, on alliance procurement.

Directors at Nissan, including those from Renault, voted unanimously in favour of the two executives, a source said.