Carlos Ghosn is having his day in the sun among the automotive media.
And there is much to laud. As dual CEO ofof Japan and of France, the Brazilian-born Frenchman is breaking new ground among the international management ranks.
He is the short-term-goal, long-term-solution, go-to guy, having brought both auto makers back from the brink of certain bankruptcy, most notably, which in 1999 when Ghosn appeared on the scene, was staring down a $20 billion debt.
Now “Le Cost-Cutter” is being celebrated in the U.S. as the answer to GM’s crushing problems. But where there is a hero, there must be a villain.
Despite a turnaround plan just barely finishing its first year and showing enough promise to win a nod from Wall Street, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner is accused of doing too little too late and too slow.
Much to his credit, he has agreed to participate in closed-door talks with Ghosn over the next several months.
The goal is to determine whether there is any merit in a tie-up between GM and the-Nissan Alliance, an idea foisted upon GM by one of its major shareholders, 89-year-old Kirk Kerkorian.
Each side is analyzing whether partnering would help their companies shed costs, share technologies and penetrate emerging markets.
Industry wags say there’s plenty of opportunity all around: Nissan’s takeover of GM’s shuttered plants; Renault’s reintroduction to the U.S. market; GM’s access to Nissan’s product development in compact and small cars; plus a mega-alliance capable of slowing thejuggernaut.
Nevertheless, many analysts continue to question whether Ghosn’s ambitions already are stretched too thin. After years of solid growth, Nissan is starting to lose momentum, posting a worse-than-expected 26% slump in quarterly operating profit this month.
Globally, the auto maker says it sold 826,000 vehicles in the April-June period, down 6.0% compared with year-ago’s first fiscal quarter. June production dropped 10.5%, marking the sixth consecutive monthly decline.
In the U.S., Ghosn is moving Nissan’s North American headquarters from Los Angeles to the Nashville area. The extreme relocation has upset staffers, and more than half the 1,300 white-collar workers have quit.
The loss of key executives, including seven of nine top product planners, could hurt the coming launch of three new cars in the year’s second half. Meanwhile, Nissan’s U.S. stock of unsold trucks and SUVs is stacking up.
It’s obvious neither Wagoner nor Ghosn needs a major distraction right now. While there are potential benefits that eventually could be achieved, the proposed mega alliance cannot wish away Nissan’s slump or GM’s crushing legacy costs, slow-selling models and aging plants.
As with the fabled Tortoise and Hare, Wagoner’s slow-but-steady North American turnaround plan may yet win the day.