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Friday March 31, 2006

Nissan's top designer says GM lost touch with customers

TOKYO (AP) - General Motors is running into trouble because the U.S. automaker has forgotten over the years how to make cars that truly cater to consumers, Nissan's head designer said Friday. 

"There was a lack of customer-orientation,'' Nissan Motor Co. Senior Vice President Shiro Nakamura said of GM's woes. 

Nakamura, design chief at Nissan since 2000, was previously employed at Japanese truckmaker Isuzu Motors Ltd. Isuzu had a partnership with GM since the 1970s, and Nakamura worked with GM designers in the 1980s under that alliance. 

On Thursday, GM said it was selling its 7.9 percent stake in Isuzu but said the cooperative relationship will continue. 

Nakamura said he had "no idea'' what GM's decision will mean for Isuzu's future because details of the deal weren't clear. 

But he expressed a fondness for GM's past glory, noting he worked with the world's best during his years at GM. 

"It was a great experience for me,'' he said at a Nissan facility in Tokyo, which will be offering car design classes to Japanese university students from June. 

Nissan already sponsors car design projects at universities, not only in Japan but also in Germany, South Korea and other nations. 

The latest initiative is an internship program for aspiring car designers. 

Japanese universities tend lag behind their foreign counterparts in car design instruction, and Nissan hopes to offset that through its new program, said Nakamura. 

Nakamura becomes chief creative officer of Nissan next month, overseeing brand marketing as well as auto design. 

GM's decision on Isuzu is part of the Detroit-based manufacturer's rapid shedding of stake ownership in Japanese automakers in an effort to raise sorely needed cash. 

General Motors, which has seen its U.S. market share eroded by Asian competition, lost US$10.6 billion in 2005. 

Earlier this month, GM sold 17 percent of Suzuki Motor Corp., which makes small cars, for about US$2 billion, leaving it with a 3 percent stake.  

That followed last year's sale of GM's entire 20 percent stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker of Subaru cars. 

Before entering a successful alliance with Renault SA of France that began in 1999, Nissan had been losing money.  

The Tokyo-based automaker has been profitable in recent years, raking in a 135 billion yen (US$1.1 billion; euro951 million) profit for the quarter ended Dec. 31. 

For Another perspective from The Daily Yomiuri, a partner of Asia News Network, click here

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