TOKYO – Nissan will unveil its Ariya electric crossover on July 15, CEO Makoto Uchida said at a contentious annual shareholders’ meeting on Monday where investors criticized everything from the automaker’s handling of the Carlos Ghosn scandal to the compensation of its board members.
The production-version Ariya will debut with Nissan’s latest ProPilot 2.0 hands-off automated driving system and a new all-electric powertrain, Uchida said. The vehicle will go on sale first in Japan before being introduced to overseas markets, he added.
The EV will eventually be available in the U.S., Europe and China.
The Ariya, which debuted as a concept at last autumn’s Tokyo Motor Show, is expected to be manufactured at Nissan’s Tochigi assembly plant, which is being converted to an EV factory. The Ariya will likely get Nissan’s new e-4ORCE all-wheel drive electric powertrain.
The ProPilot 2.0 system, introduced last year in Japan, allows hands-free auto-navigating highway driving from on-ramp to off-ramp. Nissan hasn’t detailed plans for deploying the 2.0 version to other markets. But it plans to introduce ProPilot systems in more than 20 models in 20 markets worldwide as part of its midterm business plan ending in March 31, 2024.
“The highlight of the new Ariya is the fusion of electrification and advanced driver-assist technologies that is expected to develop into self-driving cars in the future,” Uchida said. “We expect the all-new Ariya to play a key role as a brand driver and face of Nissan for the new era.”
The EV will help spearhead a renewal of Nissan’s global lineup, Uchida said. Nissan will introduce eight full-electric vehicles under midterm plan, and 12 new models globally in the next 18 months.
Nissan hosted a slimmed down version of its annual shareholders’ meeting, which usually draws thousands of people to a cavernous convention center in Yokohama.
This year, as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nissan allotted only 400 seats in its headquarters’ auditorium. Attendees were required to wear masks, and Nissan skipped the post-meeting lunch reception.
Last year, 2,814 people attended, and the meeting ran nearly three-and-a-half hours. Only 295 turned out for this year’s gathering on June 29, and the event lasted just under two hours.
Shareholders voiced discontent with a range of issues, from compensation and the revival plan to business to relations with partner Renault and the legacy of former chairman Ghosn.
Earlier this year, Nissan issued pay cuts to executives and scrubbed the year-end dividend to investors, as the company struggles to rebound from its first full-year net loss in 11 years.
But one shareholder criticized the board’s decision not to cut the compensation of outside, non-operational directors. Their pay stays the same. Keiko Ihara, the outside independent director who chairs the compensation committee, defended keeping their pay steady as way to separate the responsibility of those charged with executing the business plan and those who oversee it.
Another shareholder slammed French partner Renault, which owns 43.4 percent of Nissan, as deadweight in the alliance because French people “excel at art” but are “weak” in technology.
Other shareholders expressed veiled sympathies for Ghosn, or at least his management style.
One said Nissan still suffers from a credibility problem, more than a year after the arrest and ouster of Ghosn for alleged financial misconduct, because of the way the scandal was handled.
The attendee said Nissan still hasn’t shaken the impression that Ghosn’s arrest was a conspiracy between prosecutors and the Japanese government’s powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry: “That’s the theory, which is understood as a convincing theory among the public.”
Another said that Nissan’s recovery from slumping sales and plunging profits has been too slow because the new management is fragmented, indecisive and uninspiring.
“What you need now is top-down strong leadership. You shouldn’t just spend time on democratic discussion. We need dictatorship,” the shareholder said. “Ironically, when Mr. Ghosn arrived at Nissan, in five or six years, he made it [recovery] a reality. That’s what Nissan needs.”
Uchida insisted that the midterm plan he unveiled in May plots a path to achievable recovering within four years. The plan calls for restoring operating profit margin to 5 percent and increasing global sales about 9 percent to 5.38 million vehicles for a 6 percent world market share.
“What we showed you, as a forecast, is the level that is feasible, achievable, a level that we can deliver,” Uchida said of the plan. “We are seeing better results, but it will take time.”