If Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is tempted to revive his push to acquire -- I’m sorry, merge with (cough, cough) -- General Motors, he might do well to consider the tale of Yoshikazu Hanawa.
Hanawa, who died this month at the age of 81, was the Nissan CEO who essentially sold control of the automaker to Renault.
Renault hadn’t been Hanawa’s first choice of buyer. He first tried peddling Nissan to Ford and DaimlerChrysler.
But Nissan was hardly an appealing acquisition target. It had lost money in eight of the previous nine years, slipping into the black that one year only because of windfall currency gains.
Nissan’s product lineup was bloated with low-volume cars, especially executive sedans, and light on what customers actually wanted, such as crossovers and light trucks. Even the Infiniti brand was a red-ink liability. Isn’t the whole point of luxury brands supposed to be to merit higher stickers and rake in thicker margins?
When Hanawa finally got Renault to take on the challenge that was turning around Nissan, the deal came with several significant benefits.
Above all, Louis Schweitzer, Renault’s chairman. Schweitzer was adamant that the tie-up be an alliance, not a takeover. Renault wasn’t going to give up its French-ness, and Nissan wouldn’t be asked to give up its Japanese-ness. That was part and parcel of the marching orders Schweitzer laid out for Carlos Ghosn, the executive charged with reviving Nissan.