Mitsubishi’s Fred Diaz is out as N.A. chief; a former CEO will replace him

Mitsubishi Motors North America is bringing back Yoichi Yokozawa as CEO, replacing Fred Diaz, who has left the company after two years in that position.

Yokozawa, 55, will assume the role in the U.S. once travel restrictions are lifted, the company said in a news release Thursday. North American COO Mark Chaffin will assume the CEO role on an interim basis, effective immediately.

Yokozawa was Mitsubishi Motors North America’s CEO from April 2011 until February 2014.

Diaz, 54, became Mitsubishi’s North American CEO in April 2018.

His future plans were not immediately clear.

During Yokozawa’s first stint as CEO, Mitsubishi launched the i-MiEV electric vehicle, as well as the Outlander and Outlander Sport crossovers and the Mirage small car. It phased out models such as the Eclipse coupe, Endeavor crossover and Galant midsize sedan from the U.S. lineup as it scaled back on regional vehicle platforms in favor of vehicles it could sell worldwide, such as the Outlander Sport.

Mitsubishi invested more than $100 million to retool its U.S. assembly plant in Normal, Ill., to build the Outlander Sport compact crossover for sales in North America and export starting in 2012. The plant was subsequently closed in 2016 and was acquired by electric vehicle startup Rivian in 2018.

Diaz’s tenure

Diaz first joined Mitsubishi in 2017, working in Tokyo as general manager in charge of performance optimization for the automaker’s global marketing and sales division. He had moved to Mitsubishi from alliance partner Nissan, where he led that brand’s North American truck strategy. Before joining Nissan in 2013, Diaz was CEO of Ram Trucks and CEO of Chrysler de Mexico and Latin America.

He arrived at Mitsubishi while the company was on an upswing in the U.S. Sales had plunged from a peak of 345,111 in 2002 to 53,986 in 2009, amid the Great Recession. 2019 was the brand’s seventh consecutive year of sales growth; deliveries totaled 121,046. He was named an Automotive News All Star in 2018.

Among his goals were making dealerships more responsive to customers and making headquarters more responsive to dealer concerns as it prepared to expand its retail network. Mitsubishi began a dealership redesign program to make its stores more visible to consumers. It was expanding its national retail network and it was preparing to roll out new or significantly freshened products across its small U.S. lineup by the end of 2020.

One of Diaz’s last duties was overseeing the move of Mitsubishi’s North American headquarters from Cypress, Calif., to suburban Nashville – just across Interstate 65 from Nissan’s base. Besides being in close proximity to its partner, Mitsubishi was working to reinvent its work culture.