Will the next CEO of Mitsubishi Motors be French?

Eyebrows are being raised about Guillaume Cartier’s appointment as a senior executive at Mitsubishi Motors.  Not only is he “only” 49, and French, but he was appointed a year ago by Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn to head up overseas sales, a position usually reserved for people who have been seconded from Mitsubishi Corporation (my old employer), such as the current CEO Osamu Masuko.

In his first interview with the Japanese media, in Diamond magazine, Cartier says that working at Mitsubishi Motors is “an interesting challenge” and that the company has a strong desire to change.  He sees his mission as “to grow the company – it is very simple”.

Changes that Cartier has undertaken in the past year included persuading Sojitz, (another Japanese trading company) to sell its 49% share in the Philippine production and sales company, making it a 100% subsidiary, after initial resistance from Sojitz to the proposal.  This approach could also impact joint ventures that Mitsubishi Motors has with Mitsubishi Corporation.

In Europe, Mitsubishi Motors only owns 25% of some dealers (France, Germany,Switzerland) and Mitsubishi Corporation owns 100% of Colt Car in the UK. There are two Russian subsidiaries, one of which is a joint venture between Mitsubishi Motors, Mitsubishi Corporation and Sinoco.  Mitsubishi Motors also owns 30% of PCMA Rus, a joint venture manufacturing cars and parts with Peugeot Citroen – which raises questions of how that is seen by Renault, Nissan’s alliance partner.

Cartier says the key is whether performance is good, not so much whether it is a subsidiary or a joint venture.  He says 12 of his 15 major markets are steadily growing.  If the performance of a region is below expectations, then all options need to be considered.  The new style is not to rely on trading companies, but to review the business looking at performance first of all.

Mitsubishi Motor’s performance is currently good – 1.1 million cars were sold in 2017, and increase of 19% since the fuel efficiency scandal of 2016.  It introduced new models like the Xpander and Eclipse Cross and also positioning ASEAN and Oceania as the backbone of its sales and marketing. The Xpander is manufactured in Indonesia and being introduced into Thailand and Vietnam.

Cartier hopes this V shaped recovery will improve employees’ confidence, which has been missing up until now.  “We must change our mindset, which means accepting risk.  Mitsubishi’s new brand message is “Drive your ambition” and this is also a message for our employees.  I want them to make decisions, to drive forward and not be afraid of growth”

Mitsubishi is an “abnormal” company, according to Cartier – because despite being a small manufacturer, it pioneered electric cars and plug in hybrid vehicles.  By becoming a member of a 10 million unit alliance, it will be able to expand its business options.  For example if US tariffs are raised on car imports, this would have a big impact on Mitsubishi, who export all their cars to the USA from Japan, but there is now the option of producing Mitsubishi cars at other alliance member factories in the USA.

Diamond finished the interview asking whether Cartier was prepared to live for a long time in Japan as an executive, clearly hinting about the possibility of him taking over from Masuko as CEO.  Cartier’s response was that he has already brought his family over, and both he and his family are happy.  So the answer is “yes”.

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