NASHVILLE -- The past is a foreign country, a writer once said -- they do things differently there.
Ditto for France.
As the Paris auto show takes off this week, one thing that probably won't get talked about much in English is the recent news that the French government has informed top executives at Renault (and that would be "the Renault-Nissan Alliance" for those of us outside of la belle France) to become -- ahem -- "more French."
The French government owns 15 percent of Renault, meaning, technically, that the French government also owns part of Nissan. France has no interest in giving up its ownership. And France's industry minister has observed that Renault is a nice profitable French automaker these days, and it is time for it to begin investing in France. He was quoted saying that Renault should be "at least as French as it was in the past."
Picture the startled expression on the face of Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn upon receiving this request. That would be the same Carlos Ghosn who once did what was unthinkable in Japan and closed a Nissan auto factory there to help save the company, and who has lately been on a tear to move as much auto and parts production out of uncompetitive Japanese yen manufacturing as he can.
Also picture the puzzled look on the face of his No. 2 man at Renault, Carlos Tavares, the hard-charging Portuguese-born former chairman of Nissan Americas, who from his office here in Nashville a couple of years ago pushed Nissan North America out of its comfort zone and deeper into South American market investments to help strengthen global profitability.