Nissan’s struggling American operation loses locally based chief

Chester Dawson

Nissan Motor Co. is tapping a senior executive based in Japan to help revitalize its ailing business in North America as part of a broader reshuffling of its regional headquarters staff.

The Japanese automaker said Thursday that Christian Vandenhende, Nissan’s vice-chief performance officer and chief quality officer, will add North American operations to his portfolio starting June 15. The Yokohama-based executive will start working in the region for two weeks a month, the company said in a statement.

Christian Vandenhende

The move coincides with the resignation of Jose Luis Valls, who will leave the company after having served for a little more than a year as the top executive in North America from Nissan’s regional headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. Valls is stepping down as chairman and president next month for family and personal reasons, the company said.

The changes come as the carmaker mulls a widespread restructuring of its business globally and as sales in the U.S. remain mired in a slump that pre-dates the coronavirus, which has exacerbated its woes. First-quarter deliveries in the country – traditionally a key profit center for the company – plunged 30% to 257,606 vehicles.

Revolving Door

Nissan named Jeremie Papin vice chairman of North America, elevating him from his current role as a senior vice president for administration and finance. Papin will lead the region locally and report to Vandenhende, but the move leaves the North American chair and president positions vacant.

The company decided the structure would best meet its needs at this time, a spokesman said by email.

Vandenhende, 58, is a veteran of Nissan partner Renault SA, where he worked for nearly two decades before being appointed to his current role in 2018. He recently filled in as acting head of Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand when that post was vacated a year ago by Christian Meunier, who now heads Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Jeep division.

Meunier had led Infiniti for only four months before bolting for Jeep, triggering a revolving door of executives named as head of the brand.

Nissan on Thursday tapped Mike Colleran, who took over from Vandenhende as Infiniti’s new global chairman in March, to instead serve as a senior vice president in charge of U.S. marketing and sales. Leadership of Infiniti will shift next month to Peyman Kargar, who currently is in charge of Nissan’s troubled Datsun brand, the company said.

Unlike Toyota Motor Corp.’s more successful Lexus division, Nissan’s Infiniti has had trouble establishing itself as a competitor in the global luxury-car market. Although both brands debuted in 1989, Lexus sold its 10 millionth vehicle last year, compared with Infiniti’s cumulative sales of about 2.6 million.