Nissan CEO Promises Growth, Calls Pay Average

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn promised strong sales growth to shareholders Tuesday in a turnaround from natural disasters and a boycott in China set off by a territorial dispute.

He also told them he was paid 988 million yen ($9.9 million) for the past fiscal year, up 1 million yen ($10,000) from the previous fiscal year.

The paycheck of Ghosn, who is one of a handful of foreigners to lead a major Japanese company, is news in this nation where company presidents including those for other automakers routinely get far less pay. But the Brazilian-born Frenchman pointed out that his compensation was relatively low for the automobile industry globally.

None of the shareholders asked about his pay during the two-hour annual meeting. They asked about green auto technology and suggested he get more women involved in the development of new car models. One even expressed worries whether anyone in Nissan could succeed Ghosn, if he were to retire.

Like other Japanese automakers, Nissan's production was devastated by the March 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan and floods in Thailand later in the year. Thailand is an important Southeast Asian production hub for Japanese and U.S. automakers.

Last year, Nissan and other Japanese automakers were hit by riots and a sales boycott in China, a key growth market for the industry, as anti-Japanese sentiment erupted over disputed tiny islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

But Nissan Motor Co. has been on a roll recently, growing particularly fast in emerging markets such as Thailand, Brazil and Indonesia. It also boasts the title of the No. 1 maker of zero-emission cars in an alliance with Renault SA of France.

The alliance is set to reach a milestone of a cumulative 100,000 electric vehicles sold around the world next month, Ghosn said.

"Without question, 2012 was a year of progress," he told a packed hall in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo, where more than 1,300 shareholders listened to executives' presentations, watched a film on Nissan and looked at a display of the latest models.

Ghosn said the maker of Infiniti luxury models and the Leaf electric car had "come a long way" from 14 years ago when he first arrived from Renault, and Nissan had been on the verge of bankruptcy. Ghosn is now also chief executive at Renault.

Nissan's annual global vehicle sales doubled over that period to nearly 5 million vehicles, he said.

Nissan has also been getting a lift recently from a cheapening yen, which boosts overseas earnings for Japanese manufacturers. The dollar is trading lately at about 100 yen, strengthening from below 80 yen for much of last year.

But Ghosn said 100 yen to the dollar was not an advantage, and merely "neutral," and the dollar should gain to 110 yen.

To the question about his possible successor, Ghosn smiled and told the crowd not to worry. He said every executive before them on the stage had a list of names, who could potentially be their successors. Ghosn has never mentioned a possible retirement date.

"There is plenty of talent at Nissan," he said.