TOKYO – Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said on Friday Osamu Masuko resigned as chairman due to health reasons and has handed over the role to CEO Takao Kato on a temporary basis.
A veteran of the Mitsubishi conglomerate, Masuko joined the automaker in 2004, and became president in 2007. He oversaw the creation of the partnership between Mitsubishi and Nissan Motor Co. in 2016, which saw Nissan take a controlling stake in the company.
The 71-year-old would stay on at Mitsubishi as a special adviser, the company said in a statement. It did not specify what Masuko was ailing from.
Masuko was at the helm of Mitsubishi during a 2016 scandal in which the automaker was found to have overstated the mileage on its vehicles. An investigation uncovered slack governance and pressure on resourced-starved engineers as chronic issues at the company.
The scandal was Mitsubishi’s third in two decades, and pummelled profits and tarnished the automaker’ s brand. At the height of the scandal, Nissan lent its smaller rival a lifeline by offering the company $2.2 billion for a 34% controlling stake.
The deal was agreed between Masuko and then Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, and brought Mitsubishi in as a junior partner in the Nissan-Renault automaking alliance.
Masuko later denounced his ties with Ghosn following Ghosn’s 2018 arrest in Japan over financial misconduct. Ghosn has denied the charges.
All three members of the alliance are currently mired in financial problems after years of aggressive expansion policies under Ghosn’s leadership resulted in falling vehicle sales.
A further drop in global car demand due to the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these problems, and Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault are each bracing for steep annual operating losses this year.
FILE PHOTO: Mitsubishi Motors Corp’s President and CEO Osamu Masuko speaks to the media after the company’s board meeting at a showroom of the company’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato