Editor's note: Automotive News interviewed Greg Kelly on Jan. 30 in Detroit. A previous version of this story misstated when the interview took place.
The rebalancing of the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi alliance opens a new chapter for the long-uneasy Franco-Japanese partnership in the wake of the arrest of its former chairman.
But one man still fighting its past, former Nissan executive Greg Kelly, says the carmakers missed a golden opportunity to better strengthen their position as a leading global auto group.
Under the plan envisioned by former Chairman Carlos Ghosn, the alliance partners would have achieved unprecedented scale and Nissan would have assumed the leading role, said Kelly, the American director charged in Ghosn's 2018 alleged financial misconduct case.
"Nissan would have been first among equals," Kelly told Automotive News on Jan. 30, shortly before the companies formally unveiled their restructured cross-holding framework.
"I do think it relates back to everything that happened in 2018, and different visions for the group," he said. "Clearly, the vision for the group here looks to more separation. Whereas I was in favor of a permanent restructuring that would have been beneficial to Nissan and to Renault."
This month's revamp sees Renault reducing its controlling stake in Nissan to 15 percent from 43 percent, giving Nissan and Renault equal stakes of 15 percent in each other. Leaders of the two companies say the new framework gives greater autonomy to the companies, allowing them to pursue their own product and technology strategies without making sub-optimal compromises.
By contrast, Ghosn's vision for a 50-50 merger of Renault and Nissan under a holding company would have boosted Nissan's standing in the partnership, said Kelly, who headed the Japanese company's legal and human resources divisions and had a hand in alliance strategic affairs.
Ghosn's plan to further expand the alliance by tying up with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would have elevated the group to a new level of unprecedented scale under unified leadership.
"It would have been really beneficial and fantastic to have this combination," Kelly said, noting that Nissan would have been able to retain many talented executives who left in the wake of Ghosn's arrest and the ensuing collapse of relations between Renault and Nissan.
"You would have avoided four years of turmoil. You would now have Nissan Renault Fiat Chrysler tied up together, and you'd have a leadership team, as you've seen from the success they've had in other companies, that would have been fantastic," Kelly said. "Carlos Ghosn had a succession plan, and he had some really talented individuals in his organization."