In conversation: Takayuki Ishida, Managing Director of Nissan India

Yesterday, Team ICB drove the Nissan Evalia MPV with the managing director of Nissan India, Mr Takayuki Ishida, accompanying us. Mr Ishida, while assidously taking feedback throughout the drive joined us for lunch after the drive, during which the following conversation happened. We posed a range of questions on a variety of topics to do with automobiles and Nissan’s plans for India, to Mr Ishida. Here are select excerpts of the impromptu conversation we had with Mr Ishida, who began working with Nissan way back in 1984, as a production controller, and has now risen to head the India operations of the Japanese automaker. Note: The entire conversation has been recollected from memory.

Takayuki Ishida, the Managing Director of Nissan India

Takayuki Ishida, the Managing Director of Nissan India

For a man who counts tennis, cycling and strumming the guitar as his hobbies, Mr Takayuki Ishida has increasingly found it difficult to indulge in his hobbies in India, as running Nissan in the country has been at the center of his universe, what with the breakneck growth of the company in India, ever since the Micra was launched. Mr Ishida comes from a largely non automotive background, having studied law and economics. However, his knowledge of economics led him to a job as production controller at Nissan in 1984, after which he has served the company in a variety of roles including that of heading the sales and marketing wing of Nissan at Canada. Juicy detail: In his younger days, Mr Ishida drove a car from Nissan’s Z line of high performance sportscars.

Coming to talk about Nissan products, we asked Mr Ishida about how the Renault-Nissan joint production facility at Oragadam, Chennai, has been shaping up. To this, Mr Ishida replied that Nissan holds a 70% stake in the plant while Renault holds the remaining 30%. Decisions about future products to roll out from the plant, especially when it comes to badge engineering, is taken twice a year, at a  joint Renault-Nissan alliance meeting. It is from these decisions that the Indian Renault-Nissan plant decides to launch badge engineered products. So, a Duster based SUV is something that Nissan is studying closely.

We also asked Mr Ishida about why the likes of the Nissan X-Trail and the Teana are not being assembled through CKD kits in India, and are instead imported as completely built units. We also pointed out that the Toyota Fortuner, which is assembled in India, sells in very good numbers. To this, Mr Ishida replied that the current unique situation of the depreciation of both the Japanese Yen and the Indian Rupee, when compared to the US Dollar meant that even CKD assembly would result in a price close to the CBU import. Therefore, the current currency environment doesn’t make sense for Nissan to assemble the X-Trail and Teana though the CKD route.

When asked about how the Japanese and European philosophies of management are being successfully implemented at the Nissan-Renault plant in India, without any conflicts, Mr Ishida noted that the alliance takes the best parts of both Japanese and European management practices to ensure that operations proceed smoothly. He also said that it is very important to respect each others'(Nissan and Renault’s) values and culture, as both companies have significant histories with employees of both organization having pride in their work culture.

We delved into the recent violence at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar manufacturing unit and asked about Mr Ishida’s opinion about it. While expressing regret and his condolences about the loss of life and the damage to property at Maruti Suzuki, he noted that it is important to not be very stringent in imposing the Japanese work culture on Indian workers. According to him, Japanese and Indians have different work cultures. So, the best approach to be to tailor make a work culture that suits both parties to ensure that the production runs smoothly with amicable relations between the management and the workers.

Mr Ishida cited the instance of Nissan running factories at China and delved into the uncomfortable relations that the Japanese and Chinese people have shared, shaped in part due to the conflicts that the nations have had for centuries. Mr Ishida said that while the initial impression of each other(Japanese: Nissan and Chinese: Dongfeng, which is Nissan’s Chinese partner) was that of an uncomfortable relationship. Gradually the ice thawed with good communication channels being established. Once both sides began talking, most of the differences were ironed out amicably for a rewarding partnership.

Here’s an interesting tidbit that Mr Ishida shared with us when we asked him about the secret for the Japanese automaker’s excellence in manufacturing and other fields of technology. He said that after World War II and its destructive effects on Japan, the Japanese people decided to hunker down and focus on re-developing the nation. Durin this time, a large number of aircraft designers who were developing fighter planes and other complex aviation technology refocused their efforts into the automotive industry and this is one of the biggest reason for the rapid advancement of the Japanese automotive sector.

When asked whether Nissan has any plans of launching the Leaf electric hatchback in the Indian car market, Mr Ishida revealed to us that the car would do a limited run in Chennai, to assess its  suitability for the Indian car market. If it is well accepted and suited to India, Nissan will take a call on selling it in India in the future. We also highlighted the value-for-money quotient in the Nissan Sunny sedan and how this factor has made the car a success in India, even as the Micra hatchback, perceived to be over-priced has not sold to its full potential.

To this, Mr Ishida said that Nissan strives to ensure that every product that they sell in India presents good value for the customer. Coming to the Micra, he reiterated that the car represents good value but the lesser sales has to do with the value not being conveyed suitably to the customer. As an example, he pointed out that the Micra, while having a smaller footprint than competition, came with more capacious interiors. Even so, the car is being seen as a smaller sized car than its competition, and this is something Nissan needs to address, and ensure that the communication about the Micra’s size is conveyed to the customer.

We egged him on to answer why ABS was not offered even on the top-end Micra while competitors offered this feature on lesser priced cars. To this, Mr Ishida replied that if indeed other manufacturers were offering the ABS function at a lesser price, Nissan might have to consider offering it on the Micra too. However, he did not make any commitments about offering the Micra Diesel with an ABS function in the near future. So, that pretty much are the pertinent points of the luncheon discussion that Team ICB had with the managing director of Nissan India, the affable Mr Takayuki Ishida, who patiently answered all our queries and took feedback about the Evalia MPV.

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