TOKYO -- How might Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. cooperate in North America now that the two automakers have finalized their tie-up?
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and his Mitsubishi counterpart, Osamu Masuko, freely admit that they have barely begun to figure that out. Collaborating on pickups to become a "powerhouse globally" is one possibility, Ghosn said.
But they already are shuffling their companies' executive ranks to reflect Nissan's effective takeover of Mitsubishi. As a result, Nissan's top North America executive and a former head of the automaker's Spanish operations, Jose Munoz, will take on an additional assignment: that of Nissan's global chief performance officer, effective Nov. 1.
That makes Munoz the point man for improving Nissan's profitability.
"North America is a very important part of the group, and the [chief performance officer] already was spending a lot of time in America because, not only in terms of volume but in terms of profit, it's a substantial part of Nissan," Ghosn said of his decision to give Munoz the added job.
"No matter who is nominated for [the post], a presence in North America is necessary," Ghosn said. "For Munoz, it's going to be easier because he has been managing the North American operation for such a long time, so I think he will be able to deliver on the [job's] mission."
Munoz, taking over for Trevor Mann who becomes Mitsubishi's chief operating officer, will be responsible for achieving Ghosn's goal of an 8 percent operating profit margin at Nissan by March. In the fiscal first quarter ended June 30, Nissan's operating profit margin inched ahead to 7.2 percent, from 7.0 percent a year earlier.
Ghosn long insisted that 8 percent was a hard target. Last year, he warned he might have to broom staff if the goal was not achieved. But at a press conference in August, Corporate Vice President Joji Tagawa said Nissan was deprioritizing the goal.
Munoz's new assignment was just one of several cascading personnel changes triggered when Nissan completed its $2.28 billion purchase of a controlling 34 percent stake in Mitsubishi. That stake gives Nissan veto power over any board-level decision at Mitsubishi, including matters of personnel, vehicle pricing and r&d budgets.
Ghosn stepped in as chairman of Mitsubishi, nudging Masuko from that role but keeping the Japanese executive on board as Mitsubishi president to help shepherd the transition.
Ghosn, Nissan's CEO since 2001, appointed Vice Chairman Hiroto Saikawa as a new co-CEO.
Masuko requested that Nissan send Mann to flesh out the restructuring team at Mitsubishi. That opened the door for Munoz.
Mann won't sit on Mitsubishi's board. But Nissan is sending three Japanese executives who will, including former r&d chief Mitsuhiko Yamashita, who has been at Mitsubishi since June.
Ghosn officially folded troubled Mitsubishi Motors into the Renault-Nissan Alliance, forecasting nearly half a billion dollars in savings as soon as next year as the group joins an exclusive club of automakers operating at a massive scale of 10 million vehicles a year.
The companies outlined plans to reap combined savings of $473.2 million in the next fiscal year, which begins April 1, through joint manufacturing, product sharing, combined purchasing and other actions that will spread costs over a higher volume of vehicles.
Ghosn described the plans publicized so far as "low-hanging fruit," obvious projects that are easy to ramp up.
Regionally, early cooperation will center on Southeast Asia and Japan, markets where both automakers are strong. But the companies were largely quiet on plans for North America.
"There are plenty of synergies we know exist that we didn't even start" to address, Ghosn said.
"Then you have the local collaborations: the collaboration between Nissan North America and Mitsubishi North America, between Nissan in Europe and Mitsubishi in Europe, between Nissan in the Middle East and Mitsubishi in the Middle East," Ghosn said.
While not singling out North America by name, Ghosn did hold out the possibility of deeper collaboration in pickups there.
He said Nissan wants to "capitalize on Mitsubishi Motors' strengths in pickup trucks to become jointly a powerhouse globally in the segment."
Mitsubishi does not sell a pickup in the U.S., but it is a strong player in the segment in Thailand, the world's second-largest pickup market.