Renault-Nissan has become ‘small and fragile,’ Ghosn says

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PARIS — Renault-Nissan, once a contender for the world’s No. 1 automaker, has become a “small and fragile” manufacturer, former Nissan and Renault Chairman Carlos Ghosn told a French newspaper in an interview.

Ghosn gave the interview to Le Parisien as his co-defendant Greg Kelly, an American former Nissan director, awaits his fate in a Japanese court. Kelly was arrested along with Ghosn in November 2018 in Tokyo on charges that they conspired to hide millions in compensation for Ghosn. 

While awaiting trial in December 2019 under house arrest, Ghosn fled Japan concealed in a box with the aid of two American citizens, who are now under detention in Japan.

A verdict in Kelly’s case is expected on March 3. If convicted he could face up to 10 years in prison. 

Click here for all Automotive News coverage of the Carlos Ghosn scandal.

“Without hesitation,” Ghosn said, he made the right decision to flee Japanese justice. He has been in his ancestral home country of Lebanon since then, but if he returns to France – where he has citizenship — he faces investigations there into his finances, although France generally does not allow extradition of its citizens.

Ghosn said it was “laughable” to blame him for Renault and Nissan’s struggles since his arrest.

The case exposed deep fissures in the two-decade-old alliance, with Nissan executives aiding Japanese prosecutors before the arrest. Ghosn had pressed for closer ties between the two companies, something Nissan had resisted.  

Renault holds a 43 percent stake in Nissan, which it acquired in 1999; in turn, Nissan holds 15 percent of Renault.

“The truth is, the world No.1 manufacturer has become a small and fragile manufacturer,” Ghosn said. “It saddens me to see that Renault is only a shadow of its former self.”

He said efforts by current Renault management and the French state, a major shareholder, to blame the automaker’s difficulties on a “race for volumes” were “indecent.”

In 2018 the Renault-Nissan Alliance, including Mitsubishi, was just ahead of Volkswagen Group for the global sales title, depending on criteria.

“They could have come up with something a little more subtle,” Ghosn said.

Renault lost a record 7.29 billion euros in the first half of 2020 and secured a French government-backed loan of 5 billion euros that year.

Ghosn said of Renault’s current management, including CEO Luca de Meo, who is betting Renault’s revival on a strategy of “value over volume”: “It’s all very well to make announcements about plans, but strategy is only 5 percent, while action and results are 95 percent.” 

“Right now,” he added, “we have very mediocre results and lots of words.”

Ghosn said he had lost a considerable amount of his savings since fleeing to Lebanon, partly because of a steep drop in value of Renault and Nissan stock, and partly because of Lebanon’s economic collapse and legal fees he has paid.

“Compared to the vast majority of the Lebanese people, I have nothing to complain about,” he said. “However, I have lost a very large part of what I had saved.”

If he could, he said, he would return to France but is prevented from doing so by an Interpol “red notice,” or request for arrest, on behalf of Japan.

“I am French, I was educated in France, I lived in France, I have a very deep attachment,” he said. “Of course, the day I can, I will go to France.”

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