Nissan loses its second chairman in a year to financial impropriety

CARLOS GHOSN may have allowed himself some Schadenfreude this week. On September 9th Hiroto Saikawa, who replaced him as Nissan’s chairman in April, fell on his sword after he too, like Mr Ghosn, faced accusations of financial impropriety. Last November Mr Saikawa, chief executive since Mr Ghosn stepped down from that role in 2017, was instrumental in bringing accusations of financial misconduct against the Frenchman.

Mr Ghosn has been under house arrest since April, awaiting trial on multiple charges, including underreporting his compensation by about ¥9bn ($84m) from 2010 to 2018. Nissan’s board this week put the total cost of the Ghosn affair to the company’s coffers at ¥35bn. The charge against Mr Saikawa—that he improperly pocketed ¥47m in performance-linked bonuses—is peanuts by comparison. Mr Saikawa insists he was unaware he had done anything wrong, echoing Mr Ghosn’s protestations that he never did anything that had not been approved by Nissan. He blames the bonus scheme on his ill-fated predecessor. It nevertheless adds to an image of mismanagement that has almost halved Nissan’s share price in the past year.

In the early 2000s Mr Ghosn helped return loss-making Nissan to profitability. But in the past few years the company has struggled in the hyper-competitive mass market. In July it announced a 98.5% fall in first-quarter profits, and said it could cut 12,500 jobs, or 7% of its global workforce. Its partnership with Renault, a French carmaker which owns 43% of its stock, is under strain. An uneasy alliance between the two firms and Mitsubishi, another Japanese firm, was held together by the Napoleonic Mr Ghosn’s charisma.

Many shareholders wanted Mr Saikawa booted out for failing to heal the rift. Industry-watchers think that a full merger between Nissan and Renault makes sense in an industry increasingly dominated by giants like Toyota and Volkswagen, which churn out 10m cars a year and whose greater economies of scale leave more resources to invest in expensive development of electric and driverless cars. But Nissan, which makes more cars than Renault and resents its partner’s claim on its profits, has resisted such consolidation. With Mr Saikawa’s departure, due on September 16th, it is all somebody else’s problem. Nissan says that around ten candidates are in the running to inherit the mess.

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