Nissan Working on Contingency Plan in Case Things Go South With Renault

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Despite Nissan and Renault spending much of 2019 attempting to reassure the world that their 20-year relationship was soundly intact, fractures have been impossible to hide from the public. If you want an analogy, imagine a carton of milk being left to curdle near a radiator and someone attaching a post-it note that reads “fine for drinking.”

While legitimate efforts to fix the relationship have been made (parts sharing, more collaborative projects, management changes, etc.), a lot of it has been undercut by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance attempting to cleanse itself of the old guard — many of whom had ties to former alliance chair Carlos Ghosn. At the same time, Nissan has sought autonomy from the French automaker, enacting corporate reforms to give it a bit more independence. It also has a cogency plan ready in the event it has to break from Renault entirely; reportedly, Nissan’s been updating that strategy ever since Ghosn escaped Japanese custody last month. 

According to the Financial Times, sources familiar with the matter said Nissan’s contingency plan focuses on engineering and technology and what what might need to be changed if it breaks from Renault. It quoted two sources as describing the current corporate relationship as “toxic” and exceptionally difficult to manage.

From FT:

Even during the Ghosn era, when the alliance was functioning more smoothly, people close to Nissan said discontent was growing among some engineers about the former chairman’s push to combine engineering and manufacturing, which is at the heart of the Japanese group’s technology.

But the integration that did occur under Mr Ghosn means ending the alliance would now be painful. The purchasing function is totally combined, while Nissan is preparing to launch the Ariya, an all-electric sport utility vehicle, within the next three years, using a new platform co-developed with Renault.

A full split would probably force both carmakers to seek new partners in an industry grappling with falling sales and rising costs from the shift to electric vehicles.

One of the main reasons manufacturers have buddied up of late has everything to do with high development costs of modern vehicles (specifically EVs). Jean-Dominique Senard, Renault’s chairman, plans to reveal several jointly developed concept vehicles for the brands to manufacture together.

While the hypothetical split would leave both companies out in the cold, Nissan has been examining what it would take to achieve complete independence in terms of engineering and manufacturing. The specifics of the plan remain a closely guarded secret.

While Renault can continue trying to draw Nissan in more closely, there will always be a contingency in Japan who believe Senard’s efforts to create a uniform alliance are misguided. Japanese shareholders have grown increasingly vocal in their distaste for further integration; pushing for more after Ghosn’s arrest, re-arrest, and subsequent escape from the country hasn’t gone over well. Nissan’s plan to distance itself from Renault may only be a plan at this juncture, but it’s one it’s reportedly working on very hard at the moment — and it’s one with at least some preexisting support.

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