From the moment that Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance seemed poised to crumble. Ghosn was the architect and driving force of the link-up between the three firms and the 'glue' that held them together.
Ghosn’s arrest – and subsequent charges of financial misconduct – came as he was reportedly masterminding a full merger of the firms. That idea had apparently met with some resistance – particularly within Nissan, given that reports his ousting was a deliberate move by insiders to prevent a full merger.
Following Ghosn’s dismissal, the Alliance was restructured to prevent a single powerbroker from taking control, and with real doubts about its future. With both Nissan and Renault struggling in the face of declining sales and the immense cost of electrification, the division in the Alliance seemed like it could tear it apart. At one stage, Renault even pursued a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – a deal that fell through, with FCA subsequently merging with the rival PSA Group.
The struggles of the two firms, as with many other car giants, has only intensified with the huge economic blow of the coronavirus crisis. So now, just months after the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance seemed to be crumbling, the three firms have essentially staked their futures on it and gone all-in, with a bold new ‘leader-follower’ model that will greatly increase shared development, models and production.
The new strategy is a marked change from the Ghosn-era approach that effectively forced the rival firms to work together on technology. Instead, they will divide up responsibilities, with each focusing on existing core strengths.
Each firm will become the ‘lead’ partner in certain regions, model lines and technologies. Instead of just sharing platforms, similar models will essentially be twinned together. For example, Nissan develop the next-generation Qashqai C-segment SUV, which will share a platform and most upper-body elements with the new Renault Kadjar. Where possible, models will be produced in the same place, which could be good news for Nissan’s Sunderland factory, where the Qashqai is currently built.
The widespread adoption of that model will slash development, production and other costs by up to 40%, potentially saving billions of pounds. Half of the new Alliance models will be built using the model by 2025, with 80% of vehicles based on common platforms by 2024. The latter figure will be achieved both by the launch of new models and the trimming of model ranges.
With each brand focusing on its strongest regions and model lines, they will likely cut and rationalise both their presence elsewhere and wider range. Renault has already pulled out from its major Chinese joint venture and is set to trim unprofitable lines such as its MPV models in Europe. Meanwhile, Nissan is set to reduce its European offerings to its successful models, such as the Leaf, Juke and Qashqai.
The two major Alliance members have press conferences scheduled for later this week (Nissan on Thursday, Renault on Friday), with each set to announce billions of pounds worth of cost cuts.
Given Ghosn once had bold plans to turn the Alliance into the world’s biggest car producer, this new approach is a major change: Jean-Dominque Senard, the chairman of both Renault and the Alliance, said the future focus will be “on efficiency and competitiveness, rather than volumes”. Senard also ruled out a full merger, adding: “We don’t need a merger to be efficient.”