Pictured: Nissan-Renault’s Carlos Ghosn and Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko
It will be business as usual for carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi in New Zealand, as far as Nissan NZ managing director John Manley is concerned.
“I assume it will be exactly the same as (the Nissan alliance) with Renault,” said Manley. “At a national sales company level we are completely separate, independent companies.”
Nissan has spent US$2.2 billion for a 34 per cent stake in Mitsubishi Motors, effectively helping its Japanese rival cope with the financial hit expected from its admission that it inflated fuel economy data on domestic models.
Nissan is Japan’s second-largest carmaker and partner in an alliance with France’s Renault. It also has strong tie-ups with Daimler in Germany, Avtovaz in Russia, and Dongfeng in China.
Nissan-Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn said the deal would help Mitsubishi address the challenges it faces, particularly in restoring consumers’ trust in the fuel economy performance.
Mitsubishi’s sales in Japan have slumped since it admitted last month that fuel efficiency on small cars had been exaggerated, including two models built for Nissan. Since then the scandal has broadened to include Mitsubishi’s entire range of small domestic cars. No overseas models have been affected.
Said Osamu Masuko, chief executive of Mitsubishi Motors: “It will not be easy to restore trust. With Nissan, we will start moving towards that goal.”
Under the agreement, Nissan will have the right to nominate the chairman of Mitsubishi Motors’ board and a third of its directors.
It comes as the race for an edge in zero-emission vehicles increases pressure on carmakers worldwide to combine operations and share development costs.
Said Manley: “Ghosn made it very clear that Nissan would protect Mitsubishi’s name, its brand and history.
“But it’s the same old thing in the background – you start sharing platforms, technology, and all other things. That’s where the (development) savings come in.”
Industry analysts have said the Nissan-Renault investment in Mitsubishi would allow the alliance to expand its foothold in parts of Asia and collaborate on the development of electric vehicles.
But Takaki Nakanishi, a former Merrill Lynch analyst who now runs his own research group, told the Financial Times that the timing was risky for Nissan since investigations by regulators into Mitsubishi’s misconduct has not been completed and the companies have yet to finalise compensation for consumers.
But he added: “Mitsubishi is now grasping at straws so it’s also an opportunity for Nissan to negotiate favourable terms despite the risks.”
Any surprises out of the deal for NZ’s Manley? “When I first heard I thought ‘wow, that’s amazing – it’s pretty big.’ But what did really surprise me was that Mitsubishi sells only around a million cars a year. I thought they were much bigger than that.”