Nis­san de­nies con­spir­acy to oust Car­los Ghosn

Auto gi­ant seeks to slash costs and down­size after years of ex­ces­sive spend­ing

Arab News - - Business News - Reuters, AP Tokyo

Nis­san Mo­tor Co. Ltd. has blasted sug­ges­tions in me­dia re­ports of a con­spir­acy within the com­pany to oust for­mer chair­man Car­los Ghosn.

Ghosn’s 2018 ar­rest in Ja­pan on fi­nan­cial mis­con­duct charges has led to much spec­u­la­tion that the move was or­ches­trated by Nis­san ex­ec­u­tives who op­posed closer ties with part­ner Re­nault SA.

“I know that in books and the me­dia there has been talk about a con­spir­acy but there are no facts what­so­ever to sup­port this,” Mo­too Na­gai, chair­man of Nis­san’s au­dit­ing com­mit­tee, told share­hold­ers at the com­pany’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing.

Re­spond­ing to de­mands from a share­holder to ad­dress the spec­u­la­tion, Na­gai ar­gued that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ghosn was con­ducted both in­ter­nally and by out­side law firms.

Mon­day’s meet­ing lasted al­most two hours — twice as long as planned, as share­hold­ers grilled CEO Makoto Uchida on how he planned to re­store trust in the com­pany fol­low­ing the Ghosn scan­dal, and re­vive sales in the US and China. Uchida, who took the helm in De­cem­ber, told share­hold­ers he would stick to his prom­ise to step down as leader if he fails to de­liver on a turn­around plan for the Ja­panese au­tomaker, which last month re­ported its first an­nual loss in 11 years.

Seek­ing to slash costs and down­size after years of ex­ces­sive spend­ing in the pur­suit of mar­ket share, Nis­san plans to cut its model range by about a fifth and re­duce pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity, shut­ter­ing plants in Spain and In­done­sia and lay­ing off work­ers in coun­tries in­clud­ing Mex­ico.

It now aims to sell 5 mil­lion ve­hi­cles a year, far fewer than past am­bi­tions of 8 mil­lion.

After the share­hold­ers’ meet­ing, the reap­point­ment of all 12 board Nis­san mem­bers was ap­proved, shown by ap­plause, and in­clud­ing votes taken ahead of time.

The board mem­bers in­clude JeanDo­minique Se­nard, chair­man of Nis­san’s al­liance part­ner Re­nault, who took part on­line from France but said noth­ing.

Uchida told share­hold­ers he is giv­ing up half his pay. He apol­o­gized for the poor re­sults and promised a re­cov­ery by 2023, driven by cost cuts and new mod­els show­cas­ing elec­tric car and au­to­mated-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy.

“We will tackle th­ese chal­lenges with­out com­pro­mise,” he said. “I prom­ise to bring Nis­san back on a growth track.”

All the world’s have been au­tomak­ers hurt by nose-div­ing sales caused by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Nis­san, based in Yoko­hama, Ja­pan, sank into its first an­nual loss in 11 years, re­port­ing a 671.2 bil­lion yen ($6.3 bil­lion) loss for the fis­cal year that ended in March.

It has not given a pro­jec­tion for this fis­cal year, cit­ing un­cer­tain­ties over the virus out­break.

One an­gry share­holder got up and said ex­ec­u­tives should give up more of their pay since in­vestors were get­ting zero div­i­dends. An­other said Nis­san needed to do more to strengthen its gov­er­nance, ar­gu­ing things have been get­ting worse, not bet­ter, since the de­par­ture of Ghosn, who was ar­rested in late 2018.

One stock owner ap­peared to speak up for Ghosn, stress­ing Nis­san had lost peo­ple’s trust after oust­ing him with­out giv­ing him a chance to de­fend him­self over prob­lems that might have been solved in­ter­nally, in­stead ap­pear­ing to col­lude with pros­e­cu­tors and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Nis­san of­fi­cials de­nied any col­lu­sion and said the com­pany has sued in civil court, seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion for the dam­ages it says it suf­fered be­cause of Ghosn.

Ghosn was set to face trial in Tokyo on charges of un­der­re­port­ing fu­ture com­pen­sa­tion and breach of trust when he fled to Le­banon in late 2019. He says he is in­no­cent.

FASTFACT

Nis­san aims to sell 5 mil­lion ve­hi­cles a year, far fewer than past am­bi­tions of 8 mil­lion.

AP

Nis­san CEO Makoto Uchida speaks dur­ing Mon­day’s share­hold­ers’ meet­ing in Yoko­hama, near Tokyo.

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