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Nissan COO believes in ‘true power of the alliance’

Defining moment: Ashwani Gupta believes that partnerships like the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance “are redefining the future of the industry”.

Gupta discusses Nissan-Renault relations, megatrends impacting Nissan, and much more

21 Jan 2020

NISSAN Motor Company’s newly appointed chief operating officer and chief performance officer, Ashwani Gupta, has told GoAuto that he believes in “the true power of the alliance” at a time when Nissan’s two-decade partnership with Renault is under intense scrutiny.


A key member of the new top management team alongside CEO Makoto Uchida, Mr Gupta has deep ties with Renault and Nissan and strong links with the third member of the alliance, Mitsubishi, and is now working to turn around the scandal-ridden company’s fortunes amid speculation that the Franco-Japanese alliance is on thin ice.


This has intensified after Carlos Ghosn’s dramatic escape from Japan to Lebanon on December 29, which was executed for the former chairman to avoid facing trial for alleged financial misconduct and has subsequently seen him launch a scathing attack on what he sees as a “masquerade of an alliance”.


But Mr Gupta, 49, who was responding to questions put to him by GoAuto before Mr Ghosn skipped bail, described the alliance as “a tool to strengthen our brand and empower us to stand strong as our own company”.


“I have worked across all alliance member companies with equal exposure to people and culture of all three organisations. I believe in the true power of the alliance,” he said.


“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to bring that power to life during my leadership roles in Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. The premise was simple: I always took a step back and thought over the purpose of how I can develop the vision and business mission for all three companies individually and collectively.


“The key to it is to use each other’s complementary strength, keeping each company’s P&L (profit and loss centre) and brand distinctive, (and) adopt a structured governance.


“Today, partnerships like the alliance are redefining the future of the industry. To be precise, in a true collaborative partnership, each entity wins and the alliance is a tool to strengthen our brand and empower us to stand strong as our own company.”


In terms of where he sees the place of Renault and Mitsubishi as alliance members with Nissan in an Australian context, he said: “The basic premise of the alliance is to find right synergies and co-operation while maintaining the companies’ individual brand identities. We do this in every market where we have presence.”


Mr Gupta said it was too early for him to comment on turnaround plans he is developing with Uchida-san and other members of the leadership team, all of whom are attempting to arrest declines in sales and profitability while the fallout from the Ghosn departure continues.


The latter was further evidenced by a report Nissan submitted to the Tokyo stock exchange last week on its internal investigation that shows other senior managers were involved in improprieties.


When asked to nominate his most urgent tasks in the new role, Mr Gupta said he was confident in facing every challenge thrown at him.


“I have always been open for new challenges and my past achievements make me confident to face any challenge, gives me the ability to adapt to new situations while placing high importance on respecting people and culture,” he said.


“The key for us is to work together as new management and define our priorities, set clear direction and deliver on agreed tasks.”


As for how confident he is that Nissan will overcome the challenges it is currently facing, Mr Gupta said: “Nissan is a very resilient company with strong heritage, great products with experienced and knowledgeable teams. This gives me immense confidence in the organisation and the people.”


Mr Gupta has oversight of Nissan’s global production (‘monozukuri’) operations, sales and marketing, business functions, management committees and all product and planning-related activities.


Taking up the new job at a time when Nissan’s profits are low, major job cuts are planned, global auto sales are slowing and new technologies – particularly electric and autonomous vehicles – are disrupting the industry, the fluent Japanese-speaking, Indian-born engineer nominated entrepreneurship as a guiding principle.


“Leading change with entrepreneurship has been a trademark of my achievements,” he said.


“Over the span of my career, I have the key take-aways: I have been accountable for every component of the automotive value chain – from finance to design to monozukuri to selling to brand.


“In each of my roles, I’ve paid close attention to how my work and that of my teams enhances the brand image and values.


“And I had the courage to take new challenges as entrepreneur, turn around, grow and sustain.”


Asked whether he can increase R&D, and fast-track EVs and other new technologies, while at the same time cut costs significantly, Mr Gupta said five “megatrends” were impacting Nissan and the broader automotive industry worldwide.


“From globalisation, we are fast moving into the age of deglobalisation and regionalisation,” he said.


“Secondly, there is a clear evolution in demographics, especially in countries like India and Vietnam where we have growing working population and countries like Japan are seeing more non-working groups, and these drive specific needs for specific products.


“Added to this, tough global economic conditions are challenging financial costs.


“Of course, we are very aware of the disruptive trends like AD (autonomous driving), IoT (Internet of Things) and connected cars and the customer evolution where car is no longer a commodity.


“Lastly, increasing environmental challenges demanding immediate solutions like electrification and other related technologies.


“These challenges ask for highly diversified investments for comparatively less economies of scale driving manufacturers to prioritise investments, consider capacity, capability and ROI (return on investment).”


Mr Gupta started his automotive career with Honda India and Japan in the mid-1990s and, upon joining Renault in 2006, was instrumental in establishing the French brand – and Nissan – in India.


He subsequently held several management roles across Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi, including head of the alliance’s global light-commercial vehicle business and, most recently, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation COO.


He was also the global program director for Nissan’s reborn Datsun brand, based in Japan and leading the product development to launch in India, Russia, Indonesia and South Africa.


Put this together and Mr Gupta is clearly seen as a fierce supporter of the alliance and an experienced executive with a unique background that will surely bring a fresh perspective to Japan’s struggling number-two auto-maker and its relationship with Renault.


“Throughout my career, I’ve worked in different cultures across the world – and I would say that we have to see it with two dimensions: country/community culture and the company/professional culture,” he said.


“And both dimensions need three basics values: respect for each culture, respect for an individual, (and) keep originality and the basic values.


“For instance, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to bring the power of alliance to life as the leader of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi LCV business. This was the first business unit of the alliance, which allowed us to establish LCV market leadership under a unique business organisation, in order to unleash the full power of the companies.


“My target was to boost each company’s performance by unleashing the full market potential and using synergies across the brands. Renault is a leader in vans, Nissan makes great trucks, and Mitsubishi has expertise in frame vehicles with a strong market presence in South-East Asia. 


“What made it work was the principle of win-win-win. In 2017 and ’18, which was a tough year for the industry, all three brands grew their LCV profitable sales and am sure it’s continuing.”


Mr Gupta said it was too early for him to comment on plans for Nissan’s operations in Australia, including its aluminium casting plant, but in his position as head of the global LCVs he presented as a strong advocate for the local subsidiaries of all alliance partners – and Australian consumers.


At the launch of the Series III Navara in Victoria in 2018, for example, he said he fully supported Nissan Australia’s quest to play a key role in global development of frame-based utes, SUVs and other vehicles and recognised the need to integrate Australian customer requirements “at a very advanced stage of the product planning”.


Now we watch with great interest as he applies his craft on a much bigger stage, where the stakes are so much higher.

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