TOKYO — In a surprise announcement, Nissan said Tuesday that it had selected a new chief executive to lead the embattled Japanese automaker, following the resignation of its former chief last month over a pay scandal.
Makoto Uchida, 53, will head the company beginning no later than Jan. 1, Nissan officials announced at a news conference at its headquarters in Yokohama. Mr. Uchida has worked at the company since 2003 and led its China operations since 2018. China is considered a key market for the struggling company.
Mr. Uchida takes the reins of the company as it faces its biggest challenges in nearly two decades. Almost one year since the ouster of its former leader, Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s profits have plunged. Its sales have dropped. And its leadership has crumbled following the resignation last month of its chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, over pay issues. The chaos has led to an exodus of top employees, and the company is in the process of cutting 12,500 jobs worldwide.
“We expect Mr. Uchida to lead the company as a team, immediately focus on the recovery of the business and revitalize the company to make a new Nissan,” Nissan’s chairman, Yasushi Kimura, told reporters.
“It is very important to demonstrate that this is a new Nissan,” Mr. Kimura said.
The selection of Mr. Uchida was unanimous, officials said.
Nissan has repeatedly clashed with its alliance partner, French automaker Renault, over management issues. The relationship deteriorated dramatically following the exit of Mr. Ghosn, who had worked to merge the companies, an effort that rankled some at Nissan who felt the company should remain independent.
Mr. Uchida was selected due to his experience abroad, as well as his dedication to the importance of the company’s alliance with its partners Renault and Mitsubishi, the head of the board’s nomination committee, Masakazu Toyoda, told reporters.
The company also announced the appointment of another two senior executives, in an effort to show it was making a clean break from the management issues that have plagued it since the exit of Mr. Ghosn.
Ashwani Gupta, the current chief operating officer at Mitsubishi and a former executive at Renault, was named Nissan’s chief operating officer. Jun Seki, a senior vice president at Nissan, will become vice chief operating officer.
“We selected the people who can show that this is a new Nissan in a strong way,” Mr. Kimura said.
The unexpected announcement came during a news conference following a meeting of the company’s full board in Yokohama. Nissan officials had previously announced that they would select a new chief executive by the end of October.
“I thought the sooner the better,” Mr. Kimura said in response to questions about the accelerated schedule.
Mr. Kimura declined to answer questions about tensions at the company, and particularly the future of Hari Nada, a powerful senior Nissan executive who has become the subject of controversy over possible conflicts of interest regarding the investigation of Mr. Ghosn.
Mr. Nada played a key role in the ouster of Mr. Ghosn and has struck a cooperation agreement with Japanese prosecutors to receive immunity in return for providing evidence against his ex-boss. Mr. Ghosn has been charged with four charges of financial wrongdoing, and awaits trial in Tokyo on bail. He says he is innocent of all charges.
Mr. Nada’s continued role at the company has been a point of concern for some directors and executives, who believe that he has been an obstacle to attempts to reform the company’s governance as it seeks to move past an era of top-down leadership, much criticized since Mr. Ghosn’s arrest in November.