With General Motors on the brink of bankruptcy -- and with a plan in plain view to split into a good GM and a bad GM -- there is an opportunity screaming for another global automaker to get the good GM on the cheap.
So where is Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn?
If he follows Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionnes playbook, Ghosn will be sitting in front of President Obamas automotive task force in the coming days proposing that Nissan-Renault do much the same thing as Fiat has going with Chrysler LLC.
That is, wait for GM to get the necessary concessions from lenders and unions and then bring in Nissan-Renault as a strategic partner hypothetically holding 20 percent of the new GM stock after a quick Chapter 11 reorganization.
If this all sounds familiar, lets rewind to three years ago when Ghosn wanted to negotiate an alliance with GM -- warts and all. He wanted it badly.
The Nissan-Renault-GM partnership idea gained traction during the summer of 2006 after then-GM investor Kirk Kerkorian pushed the idea through his associate, Jerry York, who sat on GMs board at the time. GM gave the idea strong consideration.
Today, Nissans reasons for seeking out GM for a partnership should be quite similar to what they were three years ago. Ghosn could make a strong case, and Washington would certainly listen. Why not? It could save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars.
For GM, this would be a no-brainer. Ghosn and his team are considered some of the smartest management minds in the industry. Nissan can bring all sorts of formidable sales, r&d, design and production weapons to the GM arsenal around the world. And after the trauma of a government-controlled bankruptcy restructuring, GM will need all the global help it can get.
For Nissan, which posted a $1.4 billion operating loss for the fiscal year ending March 31, this deal could give it access to the global assets it needs in the most crucial markets to compete with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
A Nissan-Renault-GM partnership today would command an 12 percent market share for light vehicles in Asia, a 16 percent share in Europe, a 19 percent share in Latin America and a 26 percent share in North America, according to first quarter 2009 figures compiled by JATO Dynamics.
In 2006, Ghosn viewed potential cost savings in such areas as product development, manufacturing, r&d and purchasing. According to one report, Ghosn suggested Nissan and Renault each take a 10 percent stake in GM.
Ghosn even did an interview on national TV to promote the alliance.
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.
But by early October, then-GM CEO Rick Wagoner and his board rejected the idea because it didnt bring enough benefit to GM. Negotiations fell apart when GM wanted Nissan-Renault to compensate GM for the alliance.
With GM now under government orders to conduct a massive downsizing of its work force, assembly plants, and dealership network, Nissan could play a major role -- perhaps a dominant role -- in the reorganized company.
Presumably, Nissan-Renault could develop more small car models along with GM and bring additional products to GM plants and dealers. Nissan-Renault could also make inroads into the North American truck market while giving GM access to its smaller car technologies.
Whats more, the combination could expand their already growing markets in Asia and Latin America.
As with the Fiat-Chrysler tie-up, a Nissan-Renault-GM alliance would need the backing of the Obama administration and the task force.
But there is no evidence right now that Ghosn would make such a move. Apparently, when youre losing $1.4 billion a year, even a visionary like Ghosn can get cold feet. Thats too bad.