What if a long-anticipated, much-rumored automotive mega-merger took place and the two lead actors were nowhere to be found?
What if it was four years after an outspoken global CEO beat the drum for consolidation, return on invested capital and industry synergies … but died before it became reality? Or another global power executive, known for his devotion to economies of scale and mergers, was arrested, jailed, freed on bail and awaiting trial — his power stripped from him?
And then a mega-merger happened?
What a strange automotive place we find ourselves in.
And how odd that with both Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and former Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn gone, their companies find themselves the center of merger attention.
The news of late has been blinding in its potential impact.
First there was word, via The Wall Street Journal, of PSA Group's fleeting interest in FCA. That was followed by the Financial Times' report last week of Renault's interest in a full-blown merger with Nissan, something Ghosn reportedly had been trying to pull off himself.
The kicker: A reconstituted Renault-Nissan would then make a bid for FCA.
Welcome to 2019 — which could feel a lot like 2015, only different.
No Marchionne. No Ghosn. No Ferdinand Piëch or Martin Winterkorn, for that matter — much of the auto CEO power closet having undergone a full-scale cleanout in these last four years.
But if these discussions are indeed taking place, the absence of Ghosn and Marchionne at the table rings with bitter irony.
In 2015, Marchionne wasn't just on the record for industry consolidation, he was shopping FCA around like it was an open auction.
What kept other automakers from taking up the offer may have been Marchionne himself. Few wanted to even sit with him and have the discussion, perhaps afraid the man across the table had the kind of acumen that would leave you wondering how your lunch was stolen — or whether, in fact, you had a lunch to begin with. It was easier to go to the next guy (See: Ford and Volkswagen).
The lessons Marchionne taught the industry were tough and ignored by most automakers — even though they knew them to be true — because of the abrasive messenger.
As for Ghosn, he always believed the industry was better off with larger, consolidated powerhouses.
We are nine months from the end of this glorious, tumultuous, spine-tingling decade.
The two biggest proponents of consolidation throughout the last 10 years are out of the picture.
But their message — if heeded — still stands to reshape the industry for decades to come.
Keith Crain's column will return.