Nissan to Shareholders: We Know You’re Livid but Here’s an Electric Crossover

Nissan hopes its electric Ariya crossover, set to debut July 15, will mark the beginning of a turnaround.

byPatrick George|
Nissan to Shareholders: We Know You’re Livid but Here’s an Electric Crossover

Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive's morning roundup of what matters in the world of cars and transportation. On tap today: EV startup Byton is reportedly on the ropes, Nissan has a lot of explaining to do but it also has an electric crossover, and Ford joins Honda in boycotting Facebook and other social media platforms to combat hate speech. 

Nissan Hopes For A Turnaround But Shareholders Are Mad

Nissan went into 2020 with more problems than I'd care to devote space to here: tanking profits, an international executive scandal up top, an aging lineup, a contentious relationship with alliance partner Renault, an unclear path for luxury division Infiniti, a need for aggressive cost cuts, global pandemic... how much time do you have?

So one place you wouldn't want to be, except as a fly on the wall, is Nissan's annual shareholders’ meeting. That was held Monday in Yokohama and, according to Automotive News, there are a few big takeaways here. 

First is the turnaround plans led by the Nissan Ariya crossover set to debut July 15. It's an EV—the latest Leaf is very good, but Nissan has to go where the buyers are and that means SUVs—with Tesla-fighting range and the newest version of the ProPilot hands-off automated driving system. Between electrification and autonomy, it represents a lot of what Nissan has in store for the future. 

But at the meeting—which was attended only by a few hundred people, for obvious reasons—shareholders had a lot to say. From Automotive News:

Shareholders voiced discontent with a range of issues, from compensation and the revival plan to business to relations with partner Renault and the legacy of former chairman Ghosn.

Earlier this year, Nissan issued pay cuts to executives and scrubbed the year-end dividend to investors, as the company struggles to rebound from its first full-year net loss in 11 years.

But one shareholder criticized the board’s decision not to cut the compensation of outside, non-operational directors. Their pay stays the same. Keiko Ihara, the outside independent director who chairs the compensation committee, defended keeping their pay steady as way to separate the responsibility of those charged with executing the business plan and those who oversee it.

Another shareholder slammed French partner Renault, which owns 43.4 percent of Nissan, as deadweight in the alliance because French people “excel at art” but are “weak” in technology.

Pretty heated, to say the least. Shareholders also slammed Nissan's management as being fractured and too "democratic" right now, and said the public perception is definitely that the company conspired to get rid of former megaboss Carlos Ghosn. In other words, it's going to take more than just a fancy EV to convince investors that things can be made right. 

Byton May Bite It

Given the pandemic's effect on sales, manufacturing and investor capital, this year is poised to be an abysmal one for startups in the autonomy and EV space. Now's not a great time to be a small player, let alone one that doesn't yet have a revenue stream. I foresee an industrywide contraction that could impact several nascent companies.

The next on the list could be Chinese-backed EV startup Byton—remember Byton? it's the one with the screens—which announced it will suspend production for six months starting July 1 as it faces a potential bankruptcy reorganization. Byton had already furloughed its U.S. employees back in April. Here's a report on the latest from Reuters:

The company, which is backed by state-owned automaker FAW Group and battery supplier Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd, said it was also actively raising funds to address issues relating to unpaid staff salaries and that it hoped to start paying employees from July.

“The new coronavirus epidemic has brought great challenges to Byton’s financing and production operations,” it said in a statement.

“After careful consideration and joint consultations with our shareholders and management, we have decided to, from July 1, kickstart a plan to lower employee costs and promote the company’s strategic reorganization,” it said.

Byton was planning to sell its EV crossover in several European countries in the second half of 2021. But now's an extremely unappetizing time to be funding a risky EV startup, so who knows if Byton will make it there or not.

Ford Calls It Quits On Social Media

Spurred on by the wave of public support for Black Lives Matter and anti-racism causes, the #brands are finally getting woke to what a hate-and fake news- filled cesspool Facebook and Twitter are. In particular, Facebook, which owns Instagram, is being faulted for failing to curb hate speech and disinformation on its platform, and as such big advertisers like Microsoft, Adidas, Clorox, Puma and Best Buy are pulling their ads from the platform. It's already hitting Facebook pretty hard where it counts—in the wallet

What does this have to do with cars? Well, Honda has pulled its ads off Facebook, and now, as The Detroit Free Press reports, Ford is doing the same. Those are two major companies for Facebook to lose, and in Ford's case it includes YouTube, Instagram and Twitter too—all places that have struggled with how much to police their platform.

From the story, quoting spokesman Said Deep:

A #StopHateforProfit campaign led by a coalition of civil rights groups including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League comes in response to "repeated failure to meaningfully address the vast proliferation of hate on its platforms."

Ford is reevaluating its presence on all social media platforms, Deep said.

"The existence of content that includes hate speech, violence and racial injustice on social platforms needs to be eradicated," he said in a statement. "We are actively engaged with industry initiatives led by the Association of National Advertisers to drive more accountability, transparency and trusted measurement to clean up the digital and social media ecosystem."

At least for now, GM says it's not doing the boycott, and Fiat Chrysler wouldn't say. 

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Your Turn

What's your take on Nissan? Do you think a turnaround is possible with this new regime?