He is easily the most sought after automobile executive on the planet. Carlos Ghosn, 52, CEO of both France's Renault and Japan's Nissan, recently began discussions with General Motors about another linkup, one designed to bring GM out of its tailspin. If anyone can do it, the thinking goes, it's Ghosn. Before his GM meeting, Ghosn sat down with TIME's BILL SAPORITO to talk about cars, corporate cultures and clashes.
How are Nissan and Renault positioned in an age of slow growth and high-cost fuels?
Both companies are well positioned in front of this evolution because, if we take them continent by continent, in North America, Nissan has a complete line of smaller cars. So if there is a shift, Nissan has all the products necessary to absorb this shift or contribute to this shift with the multiplication of new products in the smaller segments: like the Versa, which was launched last month; like the renewal of the Altima, a very important car, coming in October; like the renewal of the Sentra, which is another important car. In Europe, Renault and Nissan have a very good lineup of smaller fuel-efficient cars, so wherever the market is going, we'll be there. In Japan, thanks to our strategy of establishing cooperation with Suzuki and with Mitsubishi, we can have a good supply of many cars in order to bring our own contribution to the market.
What about developing markets?
Nissan is growing in China; Renault is growing in India. Renault is standing very well in Russia and increasing its capacity there. And Nissan will establish a new plant in St. Petersburg to be able to sustain its growth in Russia.
Earlier this year, you announced a new growth plan for Renault, selling 800,000 more cars by 2009. That's a lot of growth.
I know [laughs]. We have a plan behind it. We have 24 new products coming in the next three years, half of them being an extension of a product offer that, today, these products don't exist. We have a big geographical expansion with the development of our joint venture in India, with the expansion of our plan in Russia, with a big project that we have in Romania mainly for selling to Eastern Europe, and in the Middle East and in the ex--Soviet Union republics and countries.
When you look back, what were the biggest surprises in forming an alliance with Nissan?
The big surprise is how much you can unlock value by just sharing experience and showing existing benchmarks. It's amazing. People will always challenge you on an idea as long as it has not been concretized by somebody else. Whenever they see somebody is doing better than them, and they can measure it, you don't have to spend a lot of time convincing them. They'll do it. Second, it's amazing how much people of different backgrounds and cultures working together can deliver, vs. people of the same culture on the same problem. The solutions are richer, much more innovative and often more powerful because they are completely thinking out of the box and are not determined by any preconceived ideas, as when you are coming from the same culture.
What's the hardest part of an alliance?
The amount of resistance and the amount of discussion you have to have to convince people that diversity is strength, even when every single thing around you proves differently to you that it's better.