Carlos Ghosn (18) Bringing back an icon
Carlos Ghosn's decision to resurrect the GT-R gave Nissan a fresh spark
At the end of 2007, I announced the revival of a Nissan icon: the high-performance GT-R sports car. The model had been discontinued in 2002, and a successor had not been announced. At the time, Nissan Motor was in the midst of its revival, and it did not have the funds or human resources to devote to a sporty, high-performance car. But, as with our China strategy, we were putting the building blocks in place.
Reviving the GT-R, and also the Z, was about more than just the vehicles themselves -- it was about reviving our brand. How society, customers and shareholders saw the company was critical to our success. And that included our employees. Morale among Nissan employees was low when I came to Japan. To motivate them, I focused on creating projects that would build excitement and give them reasons to be proud of their company. A flagship car was one of those projects.
First, I set out to reform our design department. A month after I became chief operating officer in June 1999, I started a search for a new head designer. My first condition was that the right candidate should come from outside the company. While it was important to me that Nissan employees rebuild Nissan themselves, I felt the role of a new designer required someone with fresh eyes and new approaches. At the time, the technology department had a significant influence over the design of our products, which wasn't an ideal process. Designers did not feel valued, and they weren't encouraged to express bold new ideas. If we were to resurrect these iconic cars -- and build them for the future -- we needed designers who weren't bound by past policies. This required us to look beyond Nissan's walls.
My second condition was that the new design head would be Japanese; it would be important that these flagship cars reflect the beauty and culture of Japan. Third, the right candidate would have proven global success.
My search ended with Shiro Nakamura, who to this day is the chief creative officer, overseeing design operations across our three brands, Nissan, Datsun and Infiniti. When I met him, Nakamura-san was a successful designer at Isuzu Motors. I told him that if he took the job, he would be expected to sign off on all final designs. Until then, this had not been the case at Nissan. Because it was not clear who signed off on final designs, no one needed to take responsibility when things went poorly. Nakamura-san accepted my condition.
Under Nakamura-san's design leadership, Nissan released a new Z in 2002 and then the GT-R in 2007. The GT-R became one of the highlights of our medium-term plan, called Nissan Value-Up. It gave the Nissan brand a much-needed spark and generated sustained profitability. The GT-R assumed a brand leadership role in the U.S., the Middle East and Europe.
The GT-R succeeded in integrating Japanese character with global appeal in its design. This is a balance we continue to strike: While the majority of our designers are based in Japan, we seek out those who can ensure that we convey the Japanese roots of our cars in ways that appeal to all of the markets where the cars will be sold.
The GT-R's revival was not just about design. We also focused on great engineering and top performance, without high spending. We built it from the ground up to be unique in the high-end sports car segment. It is still my favorite car to drive today.
Carlos Ghosn is chairman and CEO of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
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