TOKYO – Nissan COO Ashwani Gupta, the executive leading Nissan’s global revival plan, will personally oversee North America as chairman of a new five-member regional board created to ensure the U.S. market regains its central role as a pillar of profitability for the carmaker.
The new North America board of directors will have its first meeting in the third week of September, after a regional gathering of U.S. dealers, Gupta said in a Monday interview.
Other board members will be Jeremie Papin, the man appointed North America’s vice chairman in May, and Christian Vandenhende, the parent company’s chief quality officer and vice chief performance officer. Another director will be a Chris Reed, senior vice president for R&D at the Nissan Technical Center. The fifth member will be an outside director.
“I will make sure NNA is getting all the resources and the support it needs to execute the North America transformation plan,” Gupta said, referring to Nissan North America.
The move is meant to provide closer oversight and communication as Gupta tries to move the U.S. sales strategy away from chasing volume toward pursuing profit.
“We have to change the mindset, from volume to value,” Gupta said. “It has to be translated and articulated into the activities. “I will supervise how we are going to do this.”
Gupta, a 49-year-old Indian national who has never had a job posting based in the U.S., said he will pay especially close attention to relationships with dealers and suppliers.
Papin, meanwhile, will retain responsibility for overall North American business results.
Gupta’s ascent could bring stability to a revolving door at the top spot in North America.
In May, Nissan said former North America Chairman Jose Valls would resign. That was the latest in a string of senior management changes at Nissan in Japan and North America. Valls took the chairman post in April 2019, replacing Denis Le Vot, who occupied the chair for only 14 months.
Nissan has been laboring to rekindle North America as an earnings engine for the Japanese company. The U.S. is Nissan’s second-biggest market after China. But the North American business is dogged by strained dealer relations and sagging profitability as it tries to lift the brand image and shift away from costly factory incentives and the heavy use of fleet sales.
Nissan has tried before to break with the volume game, usually with lackluster results.
This time is different, Gupta said, because of better product and more grounded objectives.
Whereas Nissan overextended in the past by chasing 8 percent global market share, it now targets 6 percent. Nissan achieved 5.8 percent global market share last year, so it’s not a big step up, Gupta noted. Meanwhile, a new wave of products, led by the redesigned Sentra sedan and upcoming Rogue crossover, are expected to move the brand higher by retain more residual value.
“The difference is very simple: discipline,” Gupta said. “When you’re giving teams a realistic objective, then teams are prouder when they overachieve in their results.”
New objectives, he said, don’t just set volume goals. Instead, they try lay out market share volume milestones that are limited by targets for revenue per unit.
Gupta said he will also have final word on ratcheting up any marketing expenses.
“The U.S. has to come to me if they want to spend more. And then I will make the judgement,” Gupta said. “The priority for me is to get Nissan’s positive free cashflow back as soon as possible.”
Gupta, who has a bachelor’s degree in production and industrial engineering and is fluent in Japanese, started his career as a commodity buyer for Honda in India.
He joined Renault as a general manager of purchasing for India in 2006 and climbed the ranks at the alliance. In 2011, he became global program director of Datsun, and in 2017 he was put in charge of the global light commercial business for Renault and Nissan.
After Nissan took its controlling 34 percent stake in Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Gupta was appointed COO of Mitsubishi in April 2019 following the departure of then COO Trevor Mann, who left the alliance in the wake of the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
Gupta was brought in as COO of Nissan later that year as Nissan revamped its top leadership.