TOKYO – Nissan on Wednesday told Renault it wasn't opposed to its partner's potential $35 billion merger with Fiat Chrysler, the Nikkei newspaper said, as the two met to hash out the future of their alliance amid a deal that could upend the auto industry. The leaders of Nissan Motor Co, France's Renault SA and junior partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp gathered at Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama for a scheduled alliance meeting - one overshadowed by Fiat Chrysler's proposal this week for a merger-of-equals with Renault. The plan, which would create the world's third-largest automaker, raises difficult questions about how Nissan would fit into a radically changed alliance. Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard arrived in Japan on Tuesday to discuss the proposed tie-up with Nissan, 43.4% owned by the French automaker. "We are not opposed," the Nikkei quoted an unnamed Nissan source who had attended the meeting as saying. The person also said "many details need to be worked out" before the Japanese automaker solidifies its position on the issue, the Nikkei reported. In a statement, the alliance members confirmed that they had "an open and transparent discussion" on the proposal. The deal looks designed to tackle the costs of far-reaching technological and regulatory changes, including the drive toward electric vehicles. Nissan, which has rebuffed overtures by Renault for a merger of their own despite their 20-year alliance, was blindsided by the discussions, sources have told Reuters, stoking concerns that a deal with Fiat Chrysler could weaken Nissan's relations with Renault. The tie-up also poses an additional challenge for Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, already grappling with poor financial performance and an uneasy relationship with Renault after Nissan led the ousting last year of long-standing alliance chairman Carlos Ghosn. There have long been tensions between Nissan and Renault over the imbalance of power in their alliance. Nissan, the bigger company, holds a 15% non-voting stake in the French automaker, while Renault owns 43.4% of Nissan. Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, Japanese media quoted Saikawa as telling reporters that he would look at the potential opportunities afforded by a Renault-FCA merger. Credit ratings agency Moody's said it was vital for Nissan to stabilize its partnership with Renault to expand operational synergies and improve margins. "It is unclear if the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Motors alliance can advance their cooperation without resolving the cross-shareholding issue, which has been source of contention," Moody's said in the report, which followed a cut to Nissan's credit rating last week. (Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by David Dolan and Christopher Cushing)
If French automaker Renault green-lights a proposed merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the companies almost immediately could begin saving money by consolidating components and basic structures on many of their most popular vehicles, an industry analyst said on Tuesday. The synergies could multiply if they invite Japanese automaker Nissan, currently Renault's alliance partner, to join the merger, according to a former Renault and Nissan executive. Renault and Italian-American rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are in talks to tackle the costs of far-reaching technological and regulatory changes by creating the world's third-biggest automaker. A Renault-Fiat Chrysler combination "would mean a greater sharing of parts (which) could really boost the profitability of Fiat Chrysler's smaller vehicles," said Sam Fiorani, vice president, AutoForecast Solutions. Building similar models on a common vehicle architecture, Fiorani said, "would give both companies a lot more freedom in manufacturing. They could mix brands and vehicle sizes on the same assembly line, switch vehicles between plants to balance production, and even shift production from one country to another, depending on changes in demand, tariffs or other considerations." Fiorani said Fiat Chrysler could benefit from sharing the French automaker's expertise in electric vehicles and powertrains, where Renault and Nissan have jointly invested more than $5 billion. These are areas in which Fiat Chrysler has little in the way of components or intellectual property. Another sector that is ripe for consolidation is light commercial vehicles, where Renault and Fiat Chrysler could build a variety of vans in several sizes on common platforms that could be assembled and sold in global markets. Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen AG began their alliance discussions a year ago by focusing on potential collaboration in light commercial vehicles.
MILAN, Italy — When John Elkann lost his ally last year with the sudden death of Sergio Marchionne, some questioned whether the softly-spoken scion of the Agnelli clan would be able to emerge from his shadow to ensure Fiat Chrysler's future. But New York-born Elkann, who became Fiat chairman in 2010, acted decisively to fill the vacuum left by the larger-than-life Marchionne and get closer to the big merger deal the legendary executive was unable to deliver. At just 28, Elkann was thrust into the role of Fiat vice chairman after the deaths of his grandfather and great-uncle "because there was really nobody else" to take the wheel. For Elkann, who got his first taste of the car industry as an intern at a factory producing headlights in Birmingham, England, the first 18 months with responsibility for the family-owned carmaker and its long heritage were "terrible." But from that low point, Elkann, 43, is now trying to merge Fiat Chrysler (FCA) with French rival Renault to form the world's third largest carmaker and tackle new challenges facing the industry. Elkann will become chairman of the merged FCA-Renault if the deal goes ahead, ensuring the Agnelli dynasty plays a central role in the next chapter of automotive history. At an event in Milan on Monday, the usually-shy Elkann looked happy and confident. His first big break came with an instrumental role in persuading Marchionne, who was running one of the businesses owned by the Agnelli family, to become chief executive in 2004 and give Fiat "a new start," Elkann said in a "Masters of Scale" podcast last year. Fiat was at the time almost on the brink of collapse. This involved a "very long night ... and many grappas" but proved to be a turning point in the fortunes of the Italian company founded by Elkann's great-great-grandfather Giovanni Agnelli, which built its first car in 1899. In 2005, Elkann backed Marchionne in negotiating the breakup of an alliance Fiat had entered into with General Motors in 2000, receiving $2 billion from GM in return for canceling a deal that could have required GM to buy the remainder of Fiat Auto. Marchionne then used GM's money to fund a turnaround at Fiat, which involved taking the Italian carmaker into a transformation alliance and then full-blown merger with U.S. automaker Chrysler as Elkann agreed to the Agnellis loosening their grip. If Elkann can deliver a deal with Renault — which will net the Agnellis about 725 million euros ($811 million) in a dividend payout — it will be partly thanks to his pick of new CEO. Michael Manley was probably was not the obvious choice, but the transition to the post-Marchionne era has been smooth with no tensions or rivalries within the family or the FCA group. The focus has been very much on the future as FCA, like its rivals, grapples with the challenges posed for the car making industry by fast-changing technology and regulation.
The late Sergio Marchionne used to say consolidation would be the only way to compete against the biggest global carmakers. The company looks certain to fulfill that goal, but perhaps not in the way he intended. The Financial Times reports that Renault wants to begin merger talks with Nissan in the next 12 months. Assuming a merger gets completed, the plan is for the combined company to then pursue another merger, with Fiat Chrysler a prime target.
Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi have been busy since cutting ties with ex-alliance boss Carlos Ghosn. They formed a new alliance board with Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard at the helm, Renault has shrunk the size of its board while Nissan added more outside directors, and the two agreed to a new governance structure to ease operational decision making. All three automakers have walked away from Ghosn-era goals to sell 14 million cars and find 10 billion euros in savings by 2022. New strategic plans for all three car companies are in the works.
The Toyota Sienna has always been an inconspicuous van. They're out there, there's a lot of them and they're huge, but they blend in with darn near everything. Perhaps Toyota noticed that a little while ago and slapped on the slightly garish grille/not a grille plastic thing in the front bumper, but it still doesn't really stand out. On the other hand, our long-term Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which is a great deal newer than the Sienna, has slick styling that gets noticed. Toyota hasn't properly redesigned the Sienna since the 2011 model year, and it shows on every front. Despite its many shortcomings, there are still some valid arguments for going with the dinosaur.
The Chrysler is fitted with Nokian Hakkapelitta winter tires. As you might guess, this means that braking and grip around corners is better than the Sienna in snow. If the Sienna were to ditch its slippery all-seasons for a proper set of winters, it would be running circles around the Pacifica. Still, I drove our Pacifica through a lake effect blizzard in Buffalo and it never blinked from lack of traction with multiple inches of snow on the ground. Some folks are going to want the assurance of all-wheel drive, and the Sienna will offer it, but don't make it your only option. All-wheel drive might help you get going, but winter tires are there to save the day when sledding gets tough.