Here is a transcript of the Thursday interview that CNBC's Maria Bartiromo conducted with Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan.
CNBC: In terms of geopolitical events, we've been reporting about all of the violence in the Middle East. Oil prices are at a record high. As a global businessman, have these events changed the way you operate?
Ghosn: Certainly the fact that oil is becoming more and more expensive and we're seeing it at $75 a barrel, we have to take this in concentration in our product planning, technology planning. So we are making substantial and significant changes into product coming in the next three to four years. This is without any doubt a factor influencing the technology and influencing the product that car manufacturers will offer.
CNBC: Tomorrow you have a meeting with the CEO of General Motors, Rick Wagoner. How did that come about? Kirk Kerkorian called you, and invited you to dinner. Tell us how this came about?
Ghosn: This started with a meeting that I had with Jerry York. You know, I have known about Jerry for awhile, but in fact I'd never met him. So I met him the first time at his request. We talked about change change about the industry. Then he said, Would you agree to meet with Kirk Kerkorian at the first opportunity?' I said fine.
I happened to be in the United States for the inauguration of the new headquarters of Nissan in Nashville. So we met on the 15th. And then during the dinner we had some exchanges about the industry, and how the Renault-Nissan alliance is working.
Here's something very interesting: People talk about the alliance, but they don't know exactly what the alliance is. What does it mean? They compare Renault-Nissan to DaimlerChrysler and other kids of collaborations.
Renault-Nissan is completely different, because we still have two independent companies. Each one is based in a different country. Two different executives, two different boards, two different stocks.
[By contrast,] DaimlerChrysler is a merger. You have one company, one board, one stock I'm not saying one is better than the other. I'm just saying they are just different. So I spend some time explaining what the alliance is about, and how it evolved, and why the alliance is getting results.
CNBC: In Kerkorian's letter to Rick Wagoner, he said the Renault-Nissan partnership alliance has created tremendous synergies in terms of engineering, manufacturing and marketing resulting in great benefits. What would be the benefits of an alliance with GM?
Ghosn: Well that's one of the reasons why we are meeting. It is because the Renault-Nissan alliance has been successful.
And it wasn't successful just for one year, or two years. This thing has been going for seven years. For seven years, the two companies have grown, and the two companies have been very profitable.
So on a long-term basis, this is a concept which is working and has delivered a lot of results. So the question now is: Is this something we can expand to a third party? And what kind of benefits are we going to get?
That's one of the reasons we are meeting with Rick. We will say, Can we outline all the different areas where we think there will be synergies? And second, can we quantify the synergies?
Obviously we're not going to do it one on one. We have to have some experts from each company [to meet and generate data] that we can agree on. This the first step. This is a very important [question]: What is at stake? The second step is: How do you deliver these results, which would be related to organization and structure.
CNBC: So you are going to have independent outsiders in this meeting to assess whether or not an alliance
Ghosn: No I don't think so. I think the first meeting is going to be mainly one-on-one at the top level to see how can we quantify what is at stake. What's the price, OK? To quantify this price, I think we're going to need our own experts. You're going to need one GM expert, one Renault expert and one Nissan expert in [each] specific area. [They would] meet together, and agree that we can expect this kind of benefit if we do things together.
CNBC: Have you spoken to Rick Wagoner yet, at all?
Ghosn: Oh yeah. I had him on the phone a couple of times already.
CNBC: And what has been Wagoner's reaction to this?
Ghosn: Well you know he has had a very open reaction. Because the Renault-Nissan alliance has been extremely successful, we're a little bit optimistic. But if you were coming from an experience which was not so successful, you'd be a little bit more skeptical.
Which I understand. So I think we're going to have to sit down and meet together... There are a lot of things at stake. That's why I want to be very cautious and look at the way we want to run it.
CNBC: Let me bring on Lee Iacocca, another really icon in the automotive industry. He talked about one the biggest problems facing GM. I'd like you to hear what he had to say and then react to it. Listen to Lee Iacocca.
Lee Iacocca: The healthcare and pension costs for Toyota are just minimal compared to General Motors. I think General Motors' own numbers show they pay $1,500 a car for health care. Toyota pays about $250 So they have some built-in advantages...
CNBC: That was Lee Iacocca What do you think about that? Is this GM's biggest problem?
Ghosn: Well, there is no doubt about the fact that health care and pension costs are a factor. So, you see, the older the workforce is, the higher the cost. If you have a younger workforce, it's an advantage. If you have an older workforce it's a disadvantage.
When you compare the United States to other countries, this is something you have to take into consideration. For example, European companies don't have to care about [pensions and health care]. It's paid by the government.
CNBC: But at some point, don't you face the same legacy issues?
Ghosn: Well, obviously, one day you are going to face it because your workforce is going to get older and you're going to have these pension costs. But today, you prepare for it. You know that if you don't do anything, you're going to get huge costs that you cannot manage. So you are trying to modify your system little by little [so you won't] face the same kind of problem.
CNBC: There is some speculation that prior to your talks with Tracinda and Wagoner, you were talking with Ford and the Ford family. And basically Kirk Kerkorian crashed that party. What has the Ford family asked you to do?
Ghosn: I have contacts with all the top executives of this industry, we know each other, we have been there for a long time. I've known Bill Ford for a very long time, we have exchanges. I don't think that saying that we had talks about the alliance is really very serious, we didn't.
CNBC: They wanted you to run the company, though.
Ghosn: Well this is a different story and a different subject. I don't think they were talking about the alliance. I've always said that I am very open, but there is no necessity to expand the alliance to a third partner. Renault-Nissan can compete together and hopefully be very successful. But if there is an opportunity to expand the alliance, we'll look at it. And that's what we are doing.
CNBC: But why GM and not Ford?
Ghosn: Well, because the request came from GM. The initiative came from them.
CNBC: Right, but Ford did ask you to get involved somehow, either run the company or take a part in the organization there.
Ghosn: No, I don't think there was any request by any other car manufacturer directly or indirectly to be part of the alliance. The first initiative that was taken was Kirk Kerkorian's [initiative] through Tracinda.
CNBC: Let me ask you about this big news today on Ford. The company cut its dividend in half. It's also cutting the fees that it pays to the board members. Many people question the viability of Ford if in fact we were to see Nissan and GM and Renault have this alliance. Is Ford in big trouble if in fact these three get together?