We can’t pretend to be overly enamored with former “car czar” Steve Rattner, who oversaw the auto bailout before being disgraced for his role in a New York pension fund pay-for-play scandal. Still, the guy was in the thick of things during last year’s negotiations over Detroit’s rescue, so he knows where the bodies are buried. And in his new book, Overhaul, which has been released to select outlets ahead of its October 14 publication, he tells a whole lot of stories about the months of bailout proceedings that led to the rescue of GM and Chrysler. Of course, Rattner has an agenda in all this, namely proving that
The auto rescue remains one of the few actions taken by the administration that, at least in my opinion, can be pronounced an unambiguous success
so he’s not necessarily an unbiased source. But with grains of salt at the ready, let’s dive into his spilled guts and see if what secrets lie beneath.
No sooner had TTAC posted its list of Top Ten Automakers (by volume), than Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn weighed in on his firms’ chances of moving on up. He tells Reuters:
Very likely this year, we should be in the top three
Volkswagen is currently in third place, with 6,290,000 units built in 2009. Nissan was in eigth place last year with 2,744,562 units (down 19 percent), while Renault came in tenth with 2,309,188 units (down 4.5 percent). Combined, the two firms accounted for 5,053,750 units, or about 1.2 billion units fewer than VW’s third-place showing (and only a few hundred thousand better than Ford, in fourth place).
Carlos Ghosn was in India on Tuesday, juggling a lot of eggs and covering a lot of bases. The official reason for his visit was the opening of the new Renault-Nissan plant in Chennai, but Ghosn’s arrival set off a flurry of R-N related news in the Indian press.
Flirtation between Nissan and GM has a rich history, dating back to 2006, when the two firms nearly merged, in a move that would have left Nissan-Renault’s Carlos Ghosn in charge of French-Japanese-American juggernaut. GM fought off Ghosn’s advances (and a stockholder rebellion) to stay independent, but with a post-bankruptcy IPO now looming, Ghosn has once again appeared on GM’s horizon. In a bit of in-depth speculation at Dow Jones Investment Banker [via the WSJ [sub]] Jamie Miyazaki and Alessandro Pasetti break down the pros and cons of a Renault-Nissan hookup with GM. Their conclusions: although, Renault is currently playing footsie with Daimler:
Over the long haul, looking west to General Motors in the U.S. could prove more fruitful for Renault than strengthening partnerships in Europe’s saturated market. Taking an equity stake in a reborn, and eventually relisted, GM would give the Renault-Nissan alliance exposure to the U.S. auto giant’s diverse geographic presence… GM [has] shifted about 37% of its total 2009 sales in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, according to J.D. Power & Associates data. Throw in GM’s plans to ramp up its Indian operations and its large presence in the Brazilian market, where Renault is investing to roughly double its market share to 10%, and the Detroit giant’s allure is obvious.
Paging Captain Kirk!
The Wall Street Journal reports that Renault had a terrible 2009. The French automaker recorded € 3.07 billion in losses (coincidentally, about the same amount it last received in French government bailout loans), including €1.56 billion absorbed from Nissan and its 21% stake in Volvo trucks. And if that weren’t bad enough, Renault’s revenue dropped 11%, on top of a 3.1% decline the year before. And there’s precious little light at the end of the tunnel either, as Renault’s all-important European market is projected to swoon by as much as ten percent next year. The only bright spot in this rather dour mess is the fact that Renault managed to reduce their net debt by €2.02 billion to €5.92 billion. Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, said that this action was imperative in order to improve their credit rating. This is presumably because Renault want to build a production plant in Algeria and establish themselves in China [Ed: already?] and will need the capital in a chilly credit market. Mr Ghosn went on to say that he expects to get €1 billion in synergies from Renault and Nissan. In other words, cost cutting. With French government already tugging at the strings, and investments in another moribund, state-rescued Russian automaker, Ghosn’s job is probably not the most envied in the auto industry. Except perhaps for a chap named Akio…
Money Control reports that the French government threatened to increase its stake in Renault from 15.01% to 20%. Not because it believes in the company and its products (would you trust a Renault Megane over a Honda Civic or Toyota Auris?), but to further exert control over Renault. Why would it want to do that? Well, that could probably have something to do with the French government’s invite to Carlos Ghosn for a little “sitdown” over the rumours that Renault may produce its new generation of Clio in Turkey, rather than its plant in Flins, France, where the current generation is built.
Ratan Tata is unmarried and has no children. So he’s now on the hunt for a successor and because of the lack of Tata scions (Toyota joke here) he’s looking outside of the family. Very far outside the family. NDTV Profit reports that Ratan Tata and Carlos Ghosn had a closed-door meeting in Mumbai a few weeks ago and Ghosn is a likely candidate. After all, Ghosn presided over the launch of the Dacia Logan which was a success in India (not to mention Europe), and now Renault-Nissan are gunning for Tata’s Nano in a link-up with Bajaj. Sounds like Ratan Tata is trying to hire away the enemy general. But is Ghosn the man to tackle Jaguar-Land Rover? And how would Ghosn’s Nissan-Renault empire cope without him?
“Without any doubt we knew fundamentally that [a merger with GM] would work, but only if it was a collaborative effort. Frankly, there was a possibility to create something that would be extremely competitive… unfortunately, it did not happen.”
Nissan/Renault honcho Carlos Ghosn reflects on the GM merger that might have been. When asked if he was happy that the merger hadn’t gone through, Ghosn replied “when you see the disaster and the waste of energy and skills and talent, nobody can be happy.” But was he talking about GM or the failure to merge with them? And since Ghosn has us in a reflective mood, isn’t it fun to imagine how a GM-Renault/Nissan merger might have played out?
Battery electric vehicles are widely seen as the most promising long-term automotive greentech, but they’re also hardly poised to take over the industry. A host of issues are keeping EVs out of mainstream acceptance, ranging from battery capacity issues to the lack of a charging infrastructure. For a group of electric transportation-sector businesses though (including Nissan, which is heavily hyping its Leaf EV), it’s nothing $124b in government support won’t fix. A press release on the Electrification Coalition’s “Roadmap” explains:
The Electrification Roadmap presents a bold and specific vision: By 2040, 75 percent of light-duty vehicle miles traveled in the United States should be electric miles. As a result, oil consumption in the light-duty fleet would be reduced by more than 75 percent, and U.S. crude oil imports could effectively be reduced to zero… “It is absolutely crucial that all of the key elements of an electrified transportation system are introduced in a highly coordinated fashion and in a way that is effective, affordable, and appealing to actual American consumers,” [David Crane, President of NRG Energy] said. “Introducing all of the separate elements, from cars to infrastructure, simultaneously in select communities across the country will move electrification beyond the early adopters; policymakers will witness the national benefit derived from a new kind of transportation system while consumers will benefit firsthand from a new kind of driving experience.”