TOKYO (May 18, 2016) — The president of Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Tetsuro Aikawa, will step down less than two years in the job amid a widening fuel economy scandal that torpedoed the auto maker's sales and led to it selling a controlling stake to rival Nissan Motor Co.
Mr. Aikawa will resign June 24, the date of Mitsubishi's annual shareholders meeting, the company announced May 18 in a statement.
Also leaving the company then will be Ryugo Nakao, executive vice president in charge of quality and product strategy.
Mitsubishi said it would name replacements later this year.
Announcing the move at a press conference, CEO Osamu Masuko, 67, said he will stay to lead the company until Nissan completes its planned purchase of a 34 percent stake in Mitsubishi. He called his lieutenants' resignations a “big loss for Mitsubishi” and said he will handle their duties in the interim.
Mr. Aikawa, 62, is an engineer noted for leading development of such Japan-market minicars as Mitsubishi's eK Wagon and the egg-shaped i. But with minicars at the heart of Mitsubishi's fuel economy scandal, they ended up being his downfall.
The outgoing president said he decided to quit for two reasons.
The first is that he was the longtime engineer and eventually director of the R&D division that fudged the fuel economy tests.
The second is that his departure will clear the way for a clean start for a new development chief, whom is expected to be installed by Nissan as part of the companies' new alliance.
“For causing trouble and worry first and foremost to our customers and to all involved, I take responsibility,” he said.
The scandal broadsided domestic sales at Mitsubishi and ratcheted costs. Faced with mounting troubles, Mitsubishi agreed last week to sell the controlling 34 percent stake to Nissan, which said it planned to help restore Mitsubishi's reputation.
Mr. Aikawa's departure caps a short tenure in the presidency that began in June 2014, when he was tapped to transition the car maker away from nine years of the leadership under Masuko.
His appointment heralded a rebirth at Mitsubishi. Crucially, Mr. Aikawa was the first president in more than a decade to have spent his entire career at the car maker. For almost 15 years, the auto maker's controlling shareholders, from erstwhile German parent DaimlerChrysler A.G. to the Mitsubishi Group companies, had installed bosses of their choice. Mr. Masuko was one of them.
Mr. Aikawa's exit also comes as struggling Mitsubishi tries to finalize its $2.2 billion equity sale to Nissan.
Under their agreement, Nissan will be allowed to appoint a third of the board members at Mitsubishi as well as the chair. Having Mr. Aikawa onboard could have helped with the transition.
Mr. Masuko handed the presidency to Mr. Aikawa in 2014 and took the then-empty role of CEO in addition to assuming the chairmanship.