91-Year-Old Suzuki Chairman to Step Down After Longest Reign in Auto Industry

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Suzuki Motor Corp.’s 91-year-old chairman Osamu Suzuki is stepping down after leading an automaker for longer than anyone else in the industry.

Suzuki, who served as the Japanese carmaker’s chief executive for 22 years and then as chairman for another two decades, will step down from his current role following a shareholders meeting in June, the company said in a statement Wednesday. He will remain as a senior adviser.

With almost half a century at the helm, Suzuki is widely credited with turning the carmaker into what it is today: one of the largest small-vehicle manufacturers in the world. Instead of taking Japan’s biggest auto giants like Toyota Motor Corp. head on, Suzuki worked to grow the company by finding new markets around the world for its compact automobiles, building a dominant share in India during his first of two terms as president from 1978 to 2000.

The nonagenarian also steered the company into alliances with two of the world’s biggest automakers, Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co., though those ultimately failed.

Suzuki Motor announced a mid-term plan Wednesday that includes electrifying all models “at the appropriate time” and reducing manufacturing-related carbon emissions to zero by 2050. The decision on management change will “up the speed of the company,” Suzuki said at the briefing.

“I am satisfied with the mid-term plan as well as management’s ability to see it out and I’ll continue to be easily accessible for advice going forward,” he said, assuring listeners that he is “full of life,” having played golf 47 times last year.

His departure comes one week after Honda Motor Co.’s chief executive Takahiro Hachigo said he would resign effective June, underscoring the churn the Japanese auto industry is currently undergoing. Japanese carmakers are beginning to recover from a tough pandemic-marred year, but even as demand revives, they’re struggling to meet sales targets amid a global chip shortage.

Suzuki is targeting a profit of 160 billion yen ($1.5 billion) for the fiscal year through March, down by about a quarter from the previous year’s 215 billion yen.

Suzuki had ceded his title of president to his son Toshihiro Suzuki in 2015, easing market uncertainty about management succession at the firm. The company’s shares are up 4% this year.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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