Until Thursday, it wasn't clear to me what Carlos Ghosn expects to gain from an alliance between Renault, Nissan and General Motors. Now I understand. He's aiming at Toyota.
I'll give Ghosn credit: He thinks big. He knows that Nissan and Renault don't have enough firepower to stop Toyota's steamroller. During a Thursday interview with CNBC, Ghosn said the alliance would not target any particular automaker.
But Toyota clearly dominates Nissan in Asia and North America. With General Motors on his side, Ghosn just might be able to break Toyota's momentum. Maybe, just maybe
Ghosn also has demonstrated his tactical finesse. On Friday, he meets with GM CEO Rick Wagoner in Detroit to discuss the proposed alliance. In advance of that meeting, he wooed investors by spelling out his vision for an alliance in a series of interviews.
During Thursday's interview with CNBC, he shot down several objections to an alliance, and he also reached out to potential allies.
First, Ghosn says he doesn't want to be chief executive of General Motors. He can't run three companies at once, he says. Now, no one can accuse him of being a powermonger.
Second, Ghosn suggests that Nissan could use some of GM's North American production capacity. Nissan wouldn't have to invest in a new plant, and GM could save more assembly plants - and hourly jobs.
That would be a powerful lure to the embattled United Auto Workers, which knows that GM will ask for big concessions during next year's contract talks.
And in a deft move, Ghosn suggested that GM, Nissan and Renault form joint teams to study the alliance's possible benefits. Each company would contribute an expert to study purchasing, product development, production, etc.
As you doubtless recall, GM's Rick Wagoner wants to form his own in-house committee. He can control his own committee; he cannot control a team of experts from GM, Renault and Nissan.
It's true that Wagoner could simply turn down Ghosn's proposal. But investors would be outraged - especially if GM's turnaround loses momentum. It's going to be a long, hot summer.
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