How an outsider rescued crisis-hit Nissan from the brink of collapse


Business Desk

Japanese carmaker Nissan was once famed for making some of the sexiest, most sought after sports cars on the planet – such as the legendary 240Z, endorsed by Hollywood superstar Paul Newman. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the company expanded phenomenally as sales in the US topped 500,000 cars a year. But by the 1990s, Nissan was veering off course. The carmaker started churning out boring, uninspiring family sedans that were more about engineering than design that catered to what its customers wanted. Sales plummeted as Nissan fans turned away, and by 1999, it was reeling under US$20 billion (S$27 billion) in debt. Brought to the brink of bankruptcy, this 84-year-old quintessential Japanese company – whose name means ‘made in Japan’ – did the unthinkable: It ceded the reins to a foreigner, Mr Carlos Ghosn, then president of French carmaker Renault. And the rest is now industry legend. The story of how one of the world’s largest car exporters found top gear again is told in Inside the Storm: Back from the Brink. The series – about legacy companies like Olympus and Marvel that have rebuilt themselves from near collapse – gained unprecedented access inside Nissan. (Watch the episode here.) Nissan’s story began in Yokohama in 1933, when its cars were made by hand and only 500 vehicles were produced a year. Over the decades, it became an industry powerhouse, exporting models like the Datsun Sunny round the world. “The first signs of Nissan’s flagging energy … came from its design,” said associate professor of management and organisation Audrey Chia from the National University of Singapore.