Carlos and Sergio: Same message, different deliveries

Douglas A. Bolduc is a special correspondent for Automotive News Europe
Two of Europe's most dynamic and quotable chief executives have had the auto industry's full attention this month as each detailed how his automaker will survive in years to come.

The bottom line from both executives was the same: Without scale-building alliances you have no future.

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn delivered his assessment with the diplomacy expected of a graduate from France's elite Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole des Mines de Paris. Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne's message came across like a punch in the nose.

During his April 7 announcement of Renault-Nissan's plan to cooperate with Daimler on the development of small cars, commercial vehicles and future powertrains, Ghosn issued a gentle yet clear warning.

"Today, if I was heading a medium (-sized) car manufacturer and I am seeing my competitors joining forces, sharing investments, gaining scale and doing it in an efficient manner, obviously I would be a little bit worried," Ghosn said.

Marchionne concluded more than five hours of presentations on his plans for the Fiat-Chrysler alliance with a scathing review of the companies that disregard his view that an automaker will need to make at least 6 million vehicles a year to have long-term success.

"We have had discussions like this with our European counterparts and competitors and nobody listens," Marchionne said. "The level of arrogance in this industry is beyond description. For somebody who has failed as consistently as we have to deliver a single euro of return to our shareholders we've got the gall to go to international auto shows and show off. There is nothing to be proud of. We're going to have to change the dynamics of this business."

Both CEOs remain very interested in establishing even more alliances.

Time will tell whether Marchionne's blunt, acerbic style will win him more partners than Ghosn's polished, measured approach.

So far, both techniques appear to be working.