September 2, 2014 / 9:20 AM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 2-Aston Martin CEO hire adds to Renault-Nissan exodus

* Nissan’s Andy Palmer to be Aston Martin CEO

* To be replaced at Nissan by Renault’s Philippe Klein

* Loss-making Aston Martin needs new investments (Adds analyst comment, details, background)

By Laurence Frost, Yoko Kubota and Edward Taylor

PARIS/TOKYO/FRANKFURT Sept 2 (Reuters) - Aston Martin has hired a senior Nissan executive to be its new boss, marking both a coup for the embattled British sportscar maker and a worsening exodus at Carlos Ghosn’s Renault-Nissan alliance.

Product and planning chief Andy Palmer, Ghosn’s second-ranked lieutenant at Nissan, has resigned to take over as Aston Martin chief executive “after he completes a transition period from his current employer”, the 101-year-old carmaker said on Tuesday, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

Privately held Aston Martin, the car brand of choice for fictitious spy James Bond, has been leaderless for nine months as it struggles to stay competitive with larger rivals and fund investments in new vehicle and engine technologies.

Palmer’s background and experience - including leadership of Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand - will be “instrumental in taking Aston Martin forward”, the loss-making carmaker said.

The move adds to a recent series of high-level Renault-Nissan departures that began last year with Carlos Tavares, Ghosn’s chief operating officer at Renault.

Like British-born Palmer, Tavares was seen as a potential Ghosn successor and went on to take the helm at PSA Peugeot Citroen earlier this year - after reportedly being approached for the Aston Martin CEO vacancy.

Takaki Nakanishi, who heads his own Tokyo-based research firm, said Ghosn’s 15-year tenure as Nissan boss had led to “a kind of deadlock” in the career paths of senior executives.

“Against that backdrop, there tends to be more moves as people look for change,” Nakanishi said. “For Nissan, Andy’s departure is a blow and the question is what will happen to the continuity of Nissan management.”

Nissan’s Infiniti division has also lost its CEO Johan de Nysschen this year, along with Europe chief Fintan Knight, an Audi and Lamborghini veteran recruited from Volkswagen Group .

Palmer, who joined Nissan in 1991, is seen by peers as a key contributor to the Japanese carmaker’s success and increasingly global outlook under 43.4 percent Renault ownership. He also spearheaded alliance cooperation with Daimler.

Palmer, 51, will be replaced at Nissan by his Renault counterpart Philippe Klein, while Renault Russia chief Bruno Ancelin will fill Klein’s shoes, the carmakers said on Tuesday.

Klein, six years Palmer’s senior, has experience in engine development, quality and product planning as well as two previous stints at Nissan under his belt.

DAIMLER INTEREST

The arrival of a new CEO may signal a turning point for Aston Martin as it purchases Mercedes engines from Daimler and seeks to deepen its own relationship with the German premium carmaker, a 4 percent shareholder.

Daimler, which lacks a British luxury brand to counter VW’s Bentley and BMW’s Rolls-Royce, has previously voiced interest in greater involvement with Aston Martin.

Before he retired at the end of 2013, former Aston Martin boss Ulrich Bez had discussed building a Lagonda SUV based on the Mercedes-Benz GL, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche confirmed in January. “We were open to that idea,” Zetsche said.

Aston Martin’s current lineup of four models, including the ageing DB9 and Vantage, risks falling foul of tightening emissions and safety regulation if the company does not step up investment in new architectures and powertrains.

In May last year, the carmaker sold a 37.5 percent stake to Italian fund Investindustrial in a $241 million deal with its controlling shareholders, Kuwait’s Investment Dar and Adeem Investment Ltd.

Two months later it announced a deal to develop a new generation of V8 engines with AMG, the Mercedes high-performance division, as well as sharing some electronics.

Further indications of potential collaboration could come as soon as next week, when AMG unveils a new GT coupé, part of efforts to challenge VW’s Porsche by making the performance offering more distinct from core Mercedes models. (Editing by Mark Potter)

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