Several companies are contemplating some sort of relationship with Nissan. And that's a company that reportedly has close to $30 billion in debt. If Nissan were a U.S. company, it would have been forced into bankruptcy quite some time ago.
Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Renault seem to be circling around, trying to figure out what's available and at what price. Ford and DaimlerChrysler already are global, and both are strong in North America.
But the global strengths of the three vary greatly.
Ford has a controlling interest in Mazda, and Ford executives are running the company. DaimlerChrysler and Renault do not have strong representation in Asia, although DaimlerChrysler sells a lot of Mercedes cars in Japan.
But Renault has no presence in North America in passenger cars, although it does own Mack Trucks. In the late 1970s, Renault bought control of American Motors but could never make it a success in the United States or Canada. In 1987, Renault sold American Motors to Chrysler, which prospered with the Jeep brand.
Currently, DaimlerChrysler is very strong around the world, with some apparent weakness in Asia. Ford has strong representation everywhere. Renault is devoid of representation in Asia and North America.
Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer has said repeatedly that it's not necessary to sell cars in North America to be successful. Now, it's painfully obvious that Renault's opportunities may be larger in Asia than in North America. There simply will not be the kind of growth opportunities in either North America or Europe that there will be in Asia when the current depression ends.
Automakers that have money to invest, whether it's deutsche marks, dollars or francs, are betting that investments in Asia might be a better, more realistic choice than in North America.
Deciding where to invest is one of the toughest choices that any automotive CEO faces these days. But in spite of the current economic shape of Asia and, even more important, in spite of the dire financial shape of Nissan, plenty of automobile manufacturers seem ready and willing to take on the challenge.
Asia has plenty of growth potential, and it looks like plenty of companies are willing to invest in that potential.