Ashwani Gupta: ‘India has taught us to believe in unity in diversity. I strongly believe this as my strength.’

by Sumantra B Barooah 11 Oct 2019


As part of the new leadership appointments at Japan's second largest and global OEM Nissan, Ashwani Gupta has been appointed as the company's COO, a role he will assume on January 1, 2020. Gupta has become the first professional of Indian origin to take up this role in Nissan, a rarity for a Japanese company. It, perhaps, reflects Nissan's approach to have cultural diversity in its leadership also, at a time when the OEM strives to overcome certain challenges. Strengthening ties with partner Renault, whose LCV business Gupta headed earlier, is one among them. In an email interview by Autocar Professional's Sumantra B Barooah, the 49-year-old, whose journey with the Alliance started in 2006, shares his thoughts on the new role, what he brings to the table, and on some key industry issues.

Congratulations on the new role. How do you plan to prepare for this coveted but challenging role at Nissan? Would you count this role as the most challenging yet for you?
I am honored to have been chosen for this role. I have always been open for new challenges and my past achievements make me confident to face new challenges and give me the ability to adapt to new situations while placing high importance on respecting people and culture. I am from India and our country has taught us to believe in unity in diversity and I strongly believe this as my strength.

You have played multiple roles in the Alliance so far. What are the ways through which the relationship between Renault-Nissan, which seems to have weakened, be strengthened? Do you think your individual profile of being from a neutral culture give you any advantage?
I have worked across all Alliance member companies and I believe in the true power of the Alliance. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to bring that power to life during my leadership roles in Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. The premise was simple: I always took a step back and thought over the purpose of how I can develop the vision and business mission for all three companies individually and collectively.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked in different cultures across the world – and I would say that we have to see it with two dimensions – country/community culture and the company/professional culture. And both dimensions need three basics values.

- Respect for each culture.
- Respect for every individual
- Maintain originality and the basic values.

What is your outlook on the ongoing changes in the automotive industry? Do you think that automobile OEMs now have to reinvent themselves as mobility solutions providers, which will necessitate venturing into areas beyond engineering, manufacturing and selling vehicles?
The auto industry is going through significant changes. From my perspective, there are five mega trends that are impacting our industry.  From globalisation, we are fast moving into the age of de-globalisation and regionalisation.

Secondly, there is a clear evolution in demographics especially in countries like India and Vietnam where we have growing working population and countries like Japan which is witnessing more non-working groups. These drive specific needs for specific products. Added to this, tough global economic conditions are challenging financial costs. Of course, we are very aware of the disruptive trends like autonomous driving (AD), IoT and connected cars and the customer evolution where car is no longer a commodity. 

Lastly, increasing environmental challenges demand immediate solutions like electrification and other related technologies. These challenges ask for highly diversified investments for comparatively less economies of scale driving manufactures to prioritise investments, consider capacity, capability and ROI more prudently.

As times get disruptive and uncertain, do you think it is perhaps prudent for organisations, especially in the highly capital intensive auto industry, to go leaner, focus on stronger presence in fewer markets  to enhance sustainability rather than being present in big number of markets which has been the case so far?
Along with what I have mentioned above, our business models are increasingly looking at leveraging partnerships, adapting the organisation, and reshaping the value proposition.

Do you think the charm of the car is waning, which could also be a factor for the slowdown in many places? If yes, how can it be revived?There are many tough, fundamental, or even existential questions that are facing automakers and suppliers, but I don’t think waning of charm is one of them. It is true that mobility is being redefined quickly with many mega trends contributing to these definitions with livability and sustainability higher on the agendas. Growth in the personal mobility market will accelerate as new sources of recurring revenues supplement slowing growth from onetime vehicle sales.