Nissan CEO promises turnaround for disgruntled shareholders

TOKYO (AP) — Nissan Chief Executive Makoto Uchida pleaded for patience from disgruntled shareholders Tuesday and promised a turnaround at the Japanese automaker, which is projecting a third year of losses as it struggles to distance itself from a scandal over its former chairman, Carlos Ghosn.

“What we have worked on during years of hardship will bear fruit,” Uchida said at the annual regular shareholders’ meeting.

Attendance was limited at the meeting, which was also relayed online due to pandemic precautions.

One shareholder got up and demanded a detailed disclosure of Ghosn’s alleged wrongdoing, saying questions about governance remained unanswered.

Another shareholder also addressed the Ghosn scandal, saying the problem should have been solved internally instead being handed over to prosecutors.

Nissan Motor Co., based in the port city of Yokohama, has been struggling in recent years. Its brand image was battered by the 2018 arrest of Ghosn over various financial misconduct allegations.

Ghosn jumped bail and fled to Lebanon in late 2019. But his arrest shocked Japan and raised serious questions about leadership at the maker of the Leaf electric car, Z sportscar and Infiniti luxury brand.

“We are sorry to have caused such worries. We are doing our best to recover your trust. I have not forgotten this for a moment,” said Uchida.

All shareholders remained anonymous and were identified with numbers.

Separately, another shareholder got up to express his outrage that there have been no dividends for two years, while some executives still are paid huge salaries.

Uchida assured investors the automaker was doing its best to avert a third straight year of losses.

Slammed by weak sales during the pandemic, Nissan is projecting a 60 billion yen ($540 million) loss for the fiscal year ending in March 2022. That’s smaller than the losses racked up in the previous two years.

Uchida said profitability was improving, and asked shareholders to give Nissan a bit more time to prove itself. Nissan boasts fine technology in automated driving and electric vehicles, he said.

“Please be assured we will continue with improvements,” said Uchida.

At the end of the two-hour meeting, shareholders approved the reappointment of the 12 directors. They include Uchida; Jean-Dominique Senard, an executive from French alliance partner Renault, and seven outside directors.

The approval was shown by applause. Votes were also submitted by proxy and online in advance.

Another proposal, which demanded the disclosure of the alliance agreement between Renault and Nissan, known as RAMA, for “Restated Alliance Master Agreement,” was rejected. Nissan management had opposed that, saying confidentiality was necessary.

The relationship between Renault and Nissan has been a recurring sticking point. Ghosn was sent in by Renault to salvage Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy in 1999.

Nissan officials have testified they turned to Japan’s criminal authorities to get Ghosn arrested because they feared the alliance was excessively dominated by Renault.

One shareholder at Tuesday’s meeting urged Nissan to apologize to Greg Kelly, a former top executive at the company who is being tried in Tokyo, charged with under-reporting Ghosn’s compensation. Kelly, an American, says he is innocent.

Uchida declined comment on Kelly’s case.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter