Mit­subishi moves on from its dark days

Rob Maet­zig talks to the globe-trot­ting head of Mit­subishi Mo­tors, Trevor Mann, who has played a ma­jor role in turn­ing around the com­pany’s prof­its.

The Timaru Herald - - MOTORING -

The man who has played a piv­otal role in dra­mat­i­cally re­turn­ing Ja­panese car man­u­fac­turer Mit­subishi to prof­itabil­ity says he is de­lighted with the part New Zealand is play­ing in the turn­around.

In fact Mit­subishi is so im­pressed, that for the first time in al­most a decade it has ap­pointed a New Zealan­der as pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mit­subishi Mo­tors New Zealand Ltd.

All this was re­vealed dur­ing a whis­tle-stop visit to Welling­ton by one of the world’s lead­ing mo­tor in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives, English­man Trevor Mann.

Up un­til last year Mann had spent 33 years with Nis­san, ris­ing from work­ing in the man­u­fac­tur­ing depart­ment at the brand’s United King­dom as­sem­bly plant at Sunderland, to be­ing ap­pointed Nis­san’s global chief per­for­mance of­fi­cer in early 2014.

Then in Oc­to­ber last year, af­ter Nis­san took a 34 per cent stake in fi­nan­cially trou­bled Mit­subishi Mo­tors and as­sumed ef­fec­tive con­trol of the com­pany, Mann was made chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Mit­subishi Mo­tors.

Since then Mann has played a ma­jor role in turn­ing Mit­subishi around – thanks to a se­ries of cost­sav­ing mea­sures it has gone from record­ing a US$300 mil­lion (NZ$421.6m) loss in the open­ing six months of the last fis­cal year, to re­turn­ing a US$340 mil­lion profit in the sec­ond six months.

Mit­subishi is now part of the global al­liance with Nis­san and Re­nault, which is the world’s big­gest au­to­mo­tive group with an­nual sales sur­pass­ing 11 mil­lion ve­hi­cles.

And although in terms of global sales Mit­subishi is very much the ju­nior part­ner in the al­liance, in New Zealand it is the other way around – year to date this year Mit­subishi has a 7 per cent mar­ket share, Nis­san 5 per cent, and Re­nault hardly fig­ures in to­tal ve­hi­cle sales.

This means that de­spite the small size of New Zealand’s new ve­hi­cle mar­ket, this coun­try has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in Mit­subishi’s turn­around, said Mann.

‘‘Mit­subishi has a pres­ence in about 160 mar­kets, and in terms of num­bers of ve­hi­cles sold New Zealand is run­ning 14th,’’ he said. ‘‘The brand is per­form­ing very well here – in New Zealand it’s the big­gest brother in the al­liance. This year it is achiev­ing 27 per cent growth year-on-year, in a mar­ket that is grow­ing 8 per cent.

‘‘And this has been achieved at a time when no new prod­uct has been in­tro­duced. To me, that shows the im­por­tance of any car com­pany hav­ing a fun­da­men­tal busi­ness model that is ro­bust and sus­tain­able.’’

Mit­subishi Mo­tors NZ’s solid busi­ness per­for­mance has re­sulted in the ap­point­ment of the com­pany’s cur­rent chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer War­ren Brown as pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive. Brown takes up the po­si­tion on Oc­to­ber 15, and MMNZ joins Aus­tralia and Canada as the only coun­tries that do not have a Ja­panese rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the top role.

‘‘Apart from the fact the New Zealand op­er­a­tion is per­form­ing well, I be­lieve in lo­cal­i­sa­tion of man­age­ment any­way,’’ said Mann.

‘‘It’s im­por­tant Mit­subishi is a di­verse com­pany at all lev­els, with no glass ceil­ings. That way it can be a truly in­ter­na­tional com­pany.’’

Since as­sum­ing his new role, Mann has spent an enor­mous amount of time on the road, vis­it­ing Mit­subishi op­er­a­tions through­out the world.

His first visit to New Zealand lasted just one day, a good por­tion of it spent talk­ing to MMNZ staff and giv­ing them a first look at the next new Mit­subishi model to come here, the Eclipse Cross SUV that will en­ter the mar­ket in the new year.

He even popped into a cou­ple of Mit­subishi deal­er­ships in the Welling­ton area.

‘‘I like to go to the ac­tual places – to talk with the staff and to touch the metal. That way you re­ally find out about what’s good and what’s bad,’’ he said.

When Mann joined Mit­subishi, an early de­ci­sion was to fo­cus on five key sub­jects:

First was mo­ti­va­tion. There was a con­sid­er­able amount of anx­i­ety as a re­sult of Mit­subishi join­ing the al­liance, and staff had to be as­sured that their fu­tures were safe.

Sec­ond was di­rec­tion. Staff needed to be con­fi­dent of the busi­ness di­rec­tion Mit­subishi wanted to take.

Third was align­ment. It was made clear that if the en­tire Mit­subishi op­er­a­tion – the com­pany, its dis­trib­u­tors and deal­ers – weren’t aligned, it would be dif­fi­cult to progress.

Fourth was fo­cus. Mann said staff needed to be given a tar­get to chase, and the im­me­di­ate tar­get was to re­turn to prof­itabil­ity. ‘‘To go from a $300m loss to a $340m profit in­side a year was a pretty au­da­cious tar­get, but we did it. We re­ally needed to fo­cus to achieve that.’’

Fifth was dis­ci­pline. ‘‘When I joined, the peo­ple at Mit­subishi were a bit punch-drunk. Par­tic­u­larly in Ja­pan, where staff had been hard-hit by the fuel econ­omy scan­dal (Mit­subishi had been found to be us­ing in­ac­cu­rate test meth­ods to pro­vide wrong in­for­ma­tion on fuel con­sump­tion) you could see there was a lack of be­lief and mo­ti­va­tion.

‘‘So we said there was no golden nugget – staff needed to roll up their sleeves and be dis­ci­plined. We needed to in­stall rig­or­ous pro­cesses, sit down ev­ery month and re­view them and set fore­casts for the fol­low­ing month.’’

Mann said he is pleased with the progress that has been achieved.

‘‘Mit­subishi is very much the small part­ner in the al­liance. But we do add more than one mil­lion ve­hi­cles to an­nual global sales, and the brand boasts ex­per­tise in SUVs and plug-in hy­brid tech­nol­ogy, which can be shared with the other mem­bers of the al­liance. And Mit­subishi in turn gets ac­cess to other tech­nolo­gies and ben­e­fits from economies of scale.

‘‘All this means that Mit­subishi is now in a po­si­tion to be able to punch sig­nif­i­cantly above our weight.’’

ROB MAET­ZIG/STUFF

The new Eclipse Cross SUV, due for launch in New Zealand in Jan­uary. Mit­subishi is a world leader in plug-in hy­brid tech­nol­ogy and has much to of­fer the al­liance with Nis­san and Re­nault, says Trevor Mann.

Mit­subishi Mo­tors chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Trevor Mann, left, with newly ap­pointed Mit­subishi NZ pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive War­ren Brown.

ROB MAET­ZIG/STUFF

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