I was caught totally off guard. In China at that time, there was a general reluctance to offer any more joint-venture licenses. In fact, in the automotive sector, foreign entities were prohibited from owning more than 50% of capital in a joint venture. But with the support of authorities, we were able to create a deal unlike any other.
The scale of the project had suddenly become enormous, valued at more than 100 billion yen ($851 million at current rates). This posed a tremendous opportunity, not only to open the door to the Chinese market, but also to contribute to the entire business of Dongfeng. It also provided Nissan with the opportunity to catch and even surpass car companies that had been in China for much longer.
So in March 2002, Nissan announced a capital tie-up with Dongfeng, and we began working on this historic new venture immediately. We created a mission team called the Golden Triangle and held meetings every other week to review reports. But as the project grew, we found that a conventional conference style no longer allowed us to hear reports from all of our teams.
I began to hold Friday night meetings with Shiga-san and a handful of other team members at an Italian restaurant near my house. I usually don't work too many late evenings, as I reserve those hours for family, but this required extra effort. After we finished our plates, I let the questions fly. Our primary concern was not the financial situation of Dongfeng, but whether we could achieve a real partnership.
In the end, things went well with Dongfeng executives. We established a strong relationship with Mr. Miao Wei, who was chairman at the time, and with Mr. Xu Ping, his successor. One of the reasons for this rapport was because the Chinese people had a deep respect for Japanese products. Dongfeng also benefited from Nissan's global management expertise. In return, Nissan was able to leverage Dongfeng's local assets, so we weren't starting from scratch. It wasn't risk free, but it was an important part of our strategy.
Today, our sales in China are a significant contributor to our global totals. And we see tremendous opportunity for low- and even zero-emission vehicles to be developed in the Chinese market.
On a personal note, after visiting China several times, I learned how to write my name in Chinese characters. I was completely fascinated by these characters and practiced them privately in my free time.