Aston Martin poaches potential Ghosn successor from Renault-Nissan

September 2, 2014, 5:29 PM UTC
Nissan Vice President Andy Palmer Attends Redesigned Teana Launch
Andy Palmer, executive vice president and chief planning officer of Nissan Motor Co., speaks next to the companys new Teana sedan following an unveiling event at Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. Nissan is Japan's second-biggest carmaker. Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg—Getty Images

The senior executive merry-go-round at the Renault-Nissan Alliance keeps whirling at high speed, now with the departure of Andy Palmer, executive vice president and top vehicle planner, to become the chief executive officer of luxury carmaker Aston Martin Lagonda.

Palmer, 51, once regarded as a potential successor to Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer, saw those prospects dim last November when Ghosn remarked that his eventual successor as Nissan CEO probably should be a Japanese executive.

In July, Johan de Nysschen, who had been recruited in 2012 by the Renault-Nissan Alliance to revamp Nissan’s Infiniti luxury franchise, announced he was jumping ship to run General Motors Co.’s (GM) Cadillac luxury division. De Nysschen had reported to Palmer. Last year, Carlos Tavares, who had been Ghosn’s number-two at Renault, abruptly resigned to take over the reins at PSA Peugeot Citroen, the troubled French automaker.

At least one analyst suggested to Reuters that Ghosn’s 15-year tenure running Nissan, and then Renault, caused “a kind of deadlock” for the careers of other senior executives. The Nissan Renault executive cadre is known for its broad ethnic and gender diversity.

“Against that backdrop, there tends to be more moves as people look for change,” Nakanishi said. “For Nissan, Andy’s departure is a blow and the question is what will happen to the continuity of Nissan management.”

Nissan and Renault own significant equity stakes in one another and have functioned as a single group since 1999, when Ghosn and the French automaker rescued Nissan from near-bankruptcy.

Palmer, a British national and highly-respected planner in automotive circles, will be moving to a small elite brand, privately owned by several investment groups and operating on the fringes of mass marketing. Aston Martin’s main claim to fame is its identity as the car fictional British spy James Bond drove in movies and novels. It recently signed an agreement to buy engines from Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz automobiles.

Succeeding Palmer as chief Nissan planner, based in Yokohama, will be Philippe Klein, a senior Renault executive.

One of the pressing question in light of Palmer’s departure will be the near-term future of Infiniti. An underperforming luxury franchise since its introduction in the 1980s, the hiring of De Nysschen from Audi marked a renewed effort at competitiveness, including a spate of new vehicle models.

For the time being, Jose Munoz, Nissan’s top U.S. executive will be responsible for Infiniti. But Ghosn, a famously demanding boss, likely is focused on finding a strong replacement for De Nysschen, which may mean having to poach from another luxury manufacturer.

Ghosn, 60, shows no signs of slowing down or reorganizing the executives at the two automakers for his eventual retirement – which must be regarded as positive development in light of their results. Under Ghosn’s strong leadership – and, perhaps, because of it – senior executives at both automakers have tended to come and go at a quick pace.

Each and every one of them likely can attest to the rigors of serving one of the most durable, creative and impressive industrial leaders of his time.