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Nissan says Ghosn to relinquish CEO role, Saikawa to take helm

People walk past the logo of Japan's auto giant Nissan Motor at the company's headquarters in Yokohama, in suburban Tokyo, on February 9, 2017.
Toru Yamanaka | AFP | Getty Images
People walk past the logo of Japan's auto giant Nissan Motor at the company's headquarters in Yokohama, in suburban Tokyo, on February 9, 2017.

Nissan Motor said Carlos Ghosn, who has led the Japanese automaker for the past 16 years, will step aside as chief executive officer, handing over the helm to a long-time company veteran.

The change in leadership comes just as Nissan and group automakers Renault and Mitsubishi Motors try to leverage their combined scale as one of the world's top-producing carmakers to compete with automakers and technology companies to develop self-driving cars and lower-emission vehicles.

Hiroto Saikawa, currently co-CEO, will be the sole chief executive officer from April 1.

The announcement ends years of speculation over when Ghosn would relinquish the top job at Nissan, Japan's No. 2 automaker, to focus on French alliance partner Renault SA, whose investors have grumbled that he was stretched too thin leading two major automakers.

Ghosn in December added a third chairmanship at Mitsubishi Motors, which joined the automaker alliance last year following Nissan's acquisition of a controlling stake in the troubled Japanese automaker.

Ghosn will remain as chairman of all three Alliance companies, and as CEO of the Renault Group, keeping him in the top position of an automaker group which has joined the ranks of Toyota Motor and Volkswagen as a producer of around 10 million vehicles annually.

"Having recently taken on new responsibilities at Mitsubishi Motors ... I have decided that the time is right for Hiroto Saikawa to succeed me as Nissan's CEO," Ghosn said in a statement.

"As Nissan's chairman, I will continue to supervise and guide the company, both independently and within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance," he said, adding that the move would allow him to devote more time to running the alliance.

Handing over the reigns at Nissan will likely enable Ghosn, known in the auto industry as "Le cost killer" to focus on further leveraging the scale of the automaker alliance to lower costs for production, procurement and R&D.

Saikawa, a 40-year Nissan veteran, has served as co-CEO since last November after the automaker took a controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors. Prior to that, he served as chief competitive officer, and also currently heads Japan's auto industry lobby.

Brazilian born and of Lebanese descent, Ghosn began his career at Michelin Tires in France, moving on to Renault, where he oversaw a turnaround of the French automaker.

From there he came to Nissan in 1999, leading the Japanese automaker's revival from a debt-laden company which had been in the red for most of the 1990s to Japan's No. 2 selling automaker. He became CEO of the company in 2001.

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