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Top global Nissan exec moves to Aston Martin

Best of British: One of the automotive industry’s top executives, Andy Palmer is returning to the UK to take the reins at Aston Martin.

Andy Palmer leaves Nissan after 23 years to become chief executive of Aston Martin

Aston Martin logo4 Sep 2014

NISSAN Motor Co has lost one of its top global executives with Andy Palmer’s move to Aston Martin as chief executive.

Bringing 35 years’ experience to the role and widely regarded as one of the most influential sales and marketing executives in the industry, Mr Palmer returns to Britain to lead the hallowed sports-luxury marque after 12 years in Japan and more than two decades with Nissan.

Most recently, he was chief planning officer and executive vice-president, reporting directly to Nissan/Renault president and CEO Carlos Ghosn.

The 51-year-old held global responsibility for sales, product and corporate planning, program management, market intelligence, marketing communications, vehicle information technology and, importantly in the context of the Aston appointment, the Infiniti luxury brand.

Wasting no time in finding a replacement, Nissan has brought Philippe Klein across from alliance partner Renault to succeed Mr Palmer.

Mr Klein, 57, was most recently head of product planning (programs) for Renault and has previously served as Nissan’s senior vice-president in charge of corporate administration and the offices of chief executive and chief operating officer.

At Aston Martin Lagonda, Mr Palmer will assume operational responsibility for all aspects of the business, leading the company “in its next phase of technology and product creation”.

The company has been without a chief executive since Ulrich Bez stepped down in November last year.

“We’re delighted that Andy will join us as our new CEO at this important time at Aston Martin,” the company said in a statement.

“Andy’s wealth of experience on the global automotive stage in marketing and sales, engineering and technology, and luxury and brand management will be instrumental in taking Aston Martin forward through its most significant and ambitious period of investment to date.”

Aston Martin announced in May that it was investing £500m ($A880.3m) into the company’s next generation of high-performance cars and expanding its manufacturing facilities in Gaydon, Warwickshire, as part of its long-term strategy to become the number-one British luxury sportscar brand.

Part of this strategy involves a partnership forged in December last year with Daimler AG, which for now involves supply of V8 engines from Mercedes-AMG but will extend to electric and electronic components and, potentially, could lead to vehicle development as the two groups “investigate additional areas of co-operation in the future”.

Significantly, Mr Palmer was the key player behind Nissan and Infiniti’s partnership with Daimler, which includes shared powertrains and vehicle architecture and will extend to joint manufacturing of Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti compact cars in Mexico from 2017.

A chartered engineer, Mr Palmer started his career in 1979, aged 16, as an apprentice at Automotive Products Limited in the UK. He rose to project engineer in 1983 and three years later joined Austin Rover, rising to chief engineer (manual transmissions) for the Rover Group.

He joined Nissan in 1991 as business administration manager at the company’s European technical centre, moving through the ranks to become deputy managing director five years later.

He subsequently transferred to Japan in September 2002 as program director for light commercial vehicles and within a year was appointed president of Nissan Motor Light Trucks Co Ltd, which made him responsible for vehicle development of Nissan’s light-duty trucks worldwide.

He established the LCV business unit within Nissan in 2004 and a year later was promoted to corporate vice-president in charge of the unit, which expanded rapidly under his leadership to become one of the company’s most significant divisions in terms of sales and profit growth.

In February 2009, Mr Palmer became a senior vice-president and a member of Nissan’s executive committee. His areas of responsibility were extended in October 2010 to global marketing, brand and communications, with a mandate to improve Nissan’s brand value through the mid-term.

Other key areas of the business were gradually added to his portfolio, and he was promoted further to executive vice-president in April 2011.

In announcing the appointment of Philippe Klein, Nissan/Renault chief Carlos Ghosn made no reference to Mr Palmer’s contribution and instead emphasised that Mr Klein “will make a significant contribution to Nissan”.

“He brings considerable engineering and product management expertise to Nissan as well as a deep knowledge of, and a long experience in, the industry and in the (Nissan-Renault) alliance,” he said.

Mr Klein, who joined Renault in 1981 as a member of the engine development department, will have global responsibility for product planning, program management, electric vehicle sales, the battery business unit, marketing, sales, market intelligence and vehicle information technology.

Mr Palmer had taken back responsibility for Infiniti after Johan de Nysschen left in July to become president of Cadillac at General Motors. Responsibility for Infiniti reportedly now falls to Nissan’s North American chief Jose Munoz.

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