Nissan found itself cold-shouldered last week by the sudden romance between its global alliance partner Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Many observers immediately concluded that the proposed Renault-FCA merger did not include a role for the Japanese automaker and might even spell trouble for Nissan's future.
But a Renault-FCA tie-up holds promising possibilities for FCA and Nissan.
For one, Nissan offers FCA a larger doorway to the world's No. 1 auto market. Nissan Group, including Infiniti, sold 1.4 million passenger vehicles in China last year, dwarfing FCA's 155,215 deliveries and Renault's 51,743, according to LMC Automotive data.
Nissan also offers FCA a leg up in electrification and semi-autonomous driving technologies. Nissan helped kick-start the industry shift to electrification with the launch of the first mass-market EV. Nissan has sold more than 409,000 battery-electric Leaf hatchbacks worldwide since its debut in December 2010.
Nissan now has more ambitious electrification plans. It wants vehicles with full-electric or the company's ePower range-extender hybrid systems to account for 30 percent of global sales by March 2023.
By contrast, under the direction of former boss Sergio Marchionne, FCA did not invest in expensive EV development as aggressively as some competitors. That decision has left FCA in the backwaters of electrification as regulations around the world continue to push the technology.
FCA would likely hope to use Renault's electrification technology, but could benefit from working with Nissan to develop EVs that are affordable and gain scale through sharing costs, said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting for LMC Automotive.
Nissan also has been a pioneer in mass-market advanced driving technologies. Its ProPilot semi-autonomous driving system has been sold in 350,000 vehicles worldwide since launching in 2016. Nissan expects to introduce a ProPilot 2.0 as early as this fall in Japan that will permit hands-off highway driving from on-ramp to off-ramp, and be capable of switching lanes and overtaking other vehicles.
Nissan's ProPilot could spread across FCA's lineup in the short term, while FCA's work with Google self-driving subsidiary Waymo could provide both brands fully autonomous technology in the future, said Sam Fiorani, vice president at AutoForecast Solutions.
An FCA-Renault tie up could help Nissan's bottom line thanks to royalty payments related to technology transfer.
Under the alliance structure, whenever Nissan transfers platform, powertrain or other technology to Renault, the French partner must pay Nissan a royalty for its use, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. If FCA became another user of Nissan technology, it would mean more royalties for Nissan.
At the same time, Nissan and FCA have aging V-6 and large four-cylinder engines. That challenge could benefit from a combined approach.
"Jointly developed modern engines would carry them well through the next decade," Fiorani said. "FCA has spare capacity for engine production if Nissan needed to raise the North American content of their vehicles."