Saturday, June 8, 2019


So, FCA has withdrawn from talks with Renault, aimed at forming a merger to assist with the co-development of EVs and autonomous vehicles.

Who shot down the deal? That fierce and determined Japanese warrior Hiroto Saikawa, CEO of Nissan.

Mind you, Nissan has reason to harbour doubts, because the Renault CEO only told Saikawa about the FCA merger talks 48 hours before they began, by email.

I now have a window into what's happening in the Nissan boardroom. Thanks to the resumption of a close friendship from more than 40 years ago, I can speak with authority about what's happening in Japan.

When I was editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine I had a close relationship with a motor industry writer, who contributed to my magazine from Japan, under the pseudonym, Paul Andrews.

He retains all his close contacts within the Japanese automotive industry and is well-placed to advise me what is going on at Japan's number two carmaker.

He tells me that the Nissan boardroom is conflicted between confusion, confrontation and rage. To recall, Renault owns 43.4% of Nissan and has a controlling interest; Nissan owns 19% of the Alliance, but has no seats on the Renault Board.

The reason for the conflict at Nissan is that it sees a merger with FCA as further diluting its overall importance, and leading to an incredibly complex confusion over ownership of intellectual property currently utlised by the Alliance, and whatever it is that FCA wants from the merger with Renault.

One of my key 'moles' at FCA tells me that, broadly, FCA doesn't give a toss about Nissan, because FCA is so severely stretched when it comes to EV and Autonomous technology development, it just wants to align itself with Renault because of the strong position it holds in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

From this viewpoint you can see why Nissan declined to participate in the Renault-FCA talks. As I have written previously, Nissan is nowhere without the Alliance. Nissan is integrated very deeply with all future platform and technology developments within the Alliance, and still it has a weak voice, due to the architecture of the 'deal' which former Alliance Chairman, Carlos Ghosn, created to initially form the Alliance.

Having 'saved' Nissan from ignominiously disappearing down the bankruptcy plughole, Ghosn and Renault were in a key position to call the shots. Thus, Nissan inherited the 'rump' of the deal.

Ghosn was smart enought to know that Nissan's overall strength in terms of product diversification and its tentative steps into electrification with the LEAF, made it an ideal partner, but he needed a 'compliant and passive' partner.

Along comes Hiroto Saikawa, who not only convinces Ghosn to make him Nissan CEO, but under the camouflage of 'developing'  the Alliance, Saikawa harboured plans to undermine any talk or action on an official Renault-Nissan merger, because he knew Nissan would come off second-best.

Then Nissan constructed this silly and pointless conspiracy to blacken Ghosn's reputation and get him out of the way.

So, here comes FCA, with offers of a merger - however, unlike the old Chrysler-Daimler 'merger of equals'(?) this was not the true situation this week.

FCA, whilst it has gradually climbed out from under its mountain of debt, is no stronger. FIAT is still suffering from poor sales in its domestic market, and lack of product development. Especially as Chrysler has nothing to offer. And, FIAT really needs Renault.

While ever FCA has Jeep and RAM to bring in profits it's looking good on paper, however, in terms of forward planning and actual future technology, the cupboard is bare and that's why it needs a strong partner.

Remember, when the late Sergio Marchionne proffered an 'obvious' merger with GM, he was rebuffed by the very smart, and switched-on GM CEO Mary Barra - because she knew FCA had nothing to offer, it just needed someone to lean on.

The same is true today. FCA may be debt free, but it's also 'idea free' and basically is alone on a desert island in this current rush towards development of EVs and autonomous vehicles.

Then there's Nissan, which becomes the elephant in the room. It would not be smart to ditch the Alliance, but it's in bed with someone it doesn't trust and doesn't particularly like.

The Alliance was the creation of a strong, capable, politically-savvy and smart man - Carlos Ghosn - and quite frankly without someone of his ability driving any alliance or merger, it's like trying to herd fleas. Nissan is out on a long limb.

Nissan may think it's strong, with a huge cash pile in the bank, but from a technology point of view it has a lot of vehicles which need replacing just to stay in the game today.

Saikawa still thinks Nissan is a passenger car powerhouse (not); and there's still the issue of all the future technology challenges.

Nissan's Board is very proud of the fact that it's now the strongest of the Alliance partners, and is highly profitable. It rightly feels it should have a stronger voice, but the French hold all the cards.
Pardon the language, but this is a shitfight. 

It's clear the FCA-Renault merger won't happen, especially as the French government (Renault's largest shareholder), represented by France's Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire (left), is trying to intimidate the companies; and Nissan doesn't want any part of any of it.

Watch this space. It can only get uglier, and uglier.

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