To some, it must seem as if Carlos Ghosn is having second thoughts about parking Nissan and Renault in a relationship with General Motors.
That's because on Thursday in France, Ghosn said he would steer clear of an alliance if the potential rewards weren't at least tenfold greater than the risks.
Quantifying the risks will be trickier than simply calculating the possible financial benefits.
But that doesn't necessarily mean Ghosn is having a change of heart. He may just be trying to manage public expectations about what could happen. Two weeks ago, Ghosn came across as passionate and assertive about the proposed alliance. By dialing back public expectations, he can avoid being mousetrapped into supporting an arrangement that might not work or that GM execs might ultimately feel isn't needed.
As they should, Ghosn and GM CEO Rick Wagoner are waiting to see the analysis and hear what the numbers tell them before deciding whether to proceed. They know that just because you do due diligence doesn't mean you do a deal.
Remember that before the old Chrysler Corp. hooked up with Daimler-Benz, it sniffed around BMW.
More recently, GM and Fiat already had exchanged gifts and were about to say their vows when GM bought its way out of what would have been a shotgun wedding and probably a stormy marriage.
When you think about it, Fiat has been promiscuous.
In 1985, Fiat and Ford flirted with the idea of combining forces in Europe to create a powerhouse that could dominate the fractious market. After a courtship that lasted several months, they called it off -- although they agreed to remain friends.
In the early 1990s, it was Fiat and Chrysler that talked about shacking up. According to a former Chrysler exec who spent time in Torino working on the potential partnership, Gianni Agnelli tabled the discussion because he had jitters about the Gulf War. After the war, Chrysler's prospects at home improved, and its ardor waned.
Mom was right: It takes more than passion to make a relationship work.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]