Like a canny investor, Carlos Ghosn has spotted an undervalued asset: General Motors' North American assembly plants.
Those plants are efficient but underused; Ghosn wants to borrow a couple.
Asked last week about the benefits of an alliance of General Motors, Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, Ghosn offered airy generalities and one concrete example. "Nissan needs more (production) capacity in North America. Period," said Renault-Nissan's chief executive in an interview on CNBC.
Ghosn made his comments the day before he met GM Chairman Rick Wagoner in Detroit on Friday, July 14, to discuss the proposed alliance. GM shareholder Kirk Kerkorian is promoting the alliance, and Wagoner says he is open to it. But GM executives fear an alliance might sidetrack the company's turnaround.
To gain public support, Ghosn held a series of interviews in New York to discuss the proposed alliance's benefits, and joint vehicle production was at the top of his list.
"Obviously, it would be a benefit for the two parties," he told CNBC. "One party does not have to make such a huge investment to build a new plant. And the other party does not have to spend so much money to close a plant and reduce the work force."
Nissan's four North American assembly plants operated at 95 percent of capacity last year, second to Toyota's 106 percent among the six largest North American automakers. GM's plants ran at 90 percent, topping only Ford Motor Co.'s 79 percent.
GM plans to shut down four assembly plants by the end of 2008. And that requires GM to eliminate 30,000 jobs, an unpleasant prospect for the company's unions. An alliance with Nissan might give some of GM's plants another chance.