Nissan-Renault chief says initial talks with GM won’t address capital stake question
TOKYO – The chief executive of Renault and Nissan said Friday that the initial 90-day talks with General Motors about a possible partnership will be about advantages in working together, but won’t address the possibility of holding capital stakes.”We are not making the capital investment inside General Motors as the first element or condition,” Carlos Ghosn told reporters at Nissan Motor Co.’s Tokyo headquarters.The initial talks are merely looking at whether the idea of a tie-up with GM makes sense, he said, shrugging off speculation in the media that he may be interested in as much as a 20 percent stake in General Motors.Ghosn, who heads Nissan and its partner Renault SA of France, has been in talks with General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Rick Wagoner about a possible tie-up among the three automakers since American billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian last month proposed GM consider joining the Renault-Nissan alliance.The companies have agreed to study in a 90-day review the potential benefits of such an alliance, which would span three major auto markets – the U.S., Europe and Japan – and boast a combined annual production of 15 million vehicles.Ghosn said teams made up of a senior official each from GM and Renault-Nissan have been set up to study possible “synergies,” but he declined to say what the teams were studying. He also refused to give his assessment of GM.But he said the benefits from a tie-up would be similar to what was gained from the Renault-Nissan alliance, which have included cost savings from buying auto parts together and sharing research while keeping the separate identities of the Nissan and Renault brands. Renault owns 44 percent in Nissan, which in turns owns 15 percent of Renault.Some analysts say Ghosn may be exploring expanding the Renault-Nissan alliance to include GM as a way to fight the ambitions of booming Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s No. 1 automaker. Nissan ranks second in Japan.”A big alliance is seen as necessary to avoid losing to the fantastic growth of Toyota,” said Koichi Sugimoto, auto analyst with Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo. “Toyota has been performing so well it’s hard to find any way to win against Toyota.”Ghosn denied an alliance with GM was a way to fight Toyota.”I don’t think alliances are about being against something or someone,” he said. “This is something that has to be positive.”The alliance between Nissan and Renault has been praised as highly successful since Ghosn was sent in by Renault in 1999 to the Japanese automaker to save it from near bankruptcy.But there are also concerns that the proposed partnership could disappoint like the 1998 linking of Chrysler Corp. of the U.S. and German automaker Daimler-Benz AG.Some analysts have criticized the idea of a Renault-Nissan-GM alliance, saying the potential benefits are unclear and the complicated process of meshing three companies could distract GM from its turnaround plan.Detroit-based GM is struggling to revive its business after losing US$10.6 billion last year and seeing its market share dwindle in North America. About 35,000 hourly workers recently agreed to retire or take buyouts and GM has announced plans to close a dozen plants by 2008.But Ghosn brushed off the skeptics, noting he faced even more doubts when he was sent in by Renault to turn around Nissan.”I’ve been through this movie seven years ago,” he said. “When Renault announced the willingness to partnership with Nissan, everybody was against it.”Ghosn said he respects GM’s symbolic importance to America.”I am totally aware General Motors is an icon in the U.S.,” he said, adding that Nissan has a similar status in Japan and Renault in France.”Because I know that, I don’t believe in anything hostile. I believe this has to be a strong partnership.”Nissan shares, which have recently lost gains to settle at about the same level they were a year ago, dipped 1.1 percent to finish in Tokyo at 1,155 yen ($9.90).