Carlos Ghosn hasn’t charmed both his worlds

The Frankfurt Auto Show opened its doors to the public on Thursday. It’s a huge party with a German accent where automakers are serving up their latest technological ideas against the backdrop of the promised economic recovery. In an atmosphere where self-criticism is rare, to say the least, the future discussed with enthusiasm.

During press days, Carlos Ghosn was very much present. With his piercing glance and tense face, the man used and abused his natural authority in front of a handful of invited journalists. It’s easy to imagine that his cold-blooded body language would be particularly effective in a small group.

The people at Renault know something about this, having had to work with this oh-so-brilliant but soulless man since the retirement in 2005 of Louis Schweitzer, chairman of the board of the formerly state-owned corporation. Clearly, the relationship has been rocky between the boss and the managers at the French corporation.

“I’d love it if someone could explain to me how Carlos Ghosn’s policies have been profitable for Renault,” said one. “The only thing that has been a real success is the Dacia. Louis Schweitzer was responsible for that project, but Ghosn opposed it at first. Today the Dacia is selling well and he doesn’t hesitate to claim credit for it!”

Under the heading of major flops, our source points to Renault’s venture into “all electric.”

“Ghosn is like a poker player. He put all his chips on electric vehicles while sweeping hybrids off the table with the back of his hand. It was a risky and losing bet that left the company in a financial hole. I’ve heard in Frankfurt that the mass market loves hybrids.”

The head of Renault and Nissan partially responded to this criticism during his meeting with the press.

“I just heard that Volkswagen will market a zero-emissions version of its popular Golf. The VW group is not hiding its ambitions in the electric vehicle market. They want to be the number one automaker in the world in 2020. We in the Alliance are convinced that this market is going to become very interesting.”

The evolution of the European market is another thorny subject. “I think we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Ghosn says. “The recovery will begin in 2014, and I predict a growth rate of 1%.”

However, the actual figures do not portend anything good. The French market in particular is still in the midst of a decline. The number of new registrations recorded in August was the lowest since 1997 at only 85,565 vehicles.

“That’s Renault’s problem,” Ghosn continued. “France is the most important market for our brand. When the environment is unfavorable, the effects on Renault are significant.”

“That’s another one of the boss’s strategic errors,” snapped the former senior manager of the French company. “If he had had the foresight to go after the Chinese and American markets with Renault, we’d have our slice of the pie. The company would be flourishing, and the French market, Renault’s Achilles’ heel, wouldn’t matter. Carlos Ghosn preferred to use Nissan to go after the Middle Kingdom and the New World.”

There are many hot topics between the patented potentate and his employees. Not long ago, several suicides within the ranks at Renault showed just how widespread the malaise is. Then, there was the story of the Chinese spies who would have continued their little charade if three managers hadn’t been indicted. Of course, they were rehired and indemnified when it was realized that the accusations were completely unfounded, but there was significant collateral damage.

The trouble began with the removal of Patrick Pélata, second in command at the time. Apparently, it’s not a good thing to work directly under Carlos Ghosn within the French company’s hierarchy. A few days ago, Carlos Tavarès paid the same price for having said that he would one day be the head of General Motors.

“I can’t believe that Tavarès would be stupid enough to say such a thing,” emphasizes a former manager at the company. “He’s been fighting Ghosn’s policies for several months, but the two had found neutral ground.”

Ultimately, Ghosn described as a completely overrated executive by the French, is seen as a demi-god in Japan.

“Carlos Ghosn really straightened Nissan out,” according to many of his Asian supporters. “Starting with a company in debt headed for failure, he built a profitable machine. He turned the Japanese operating mode upside down by putting an end to lifetime employment. It was a revolution that inspired many other companies. His visionary talent is often sought out by the boards of major Japanese firms eager to hear his wisdom. He’s also greatly appreciated within the government. He’s a star! Just look at how the media came out for the Tokyo Auto Show. His smallest actions and gestures are immortalized and a crowd follows his every step.”

It’s not that way in France, at least that’s the consensus.

“His basic problem is that he doesn’t know how to become part of our culture, even though he studied in France,” our source continues. “He doesn’t understand the French way of working where the directors are trained at the national level. At Renault, the state owns 15% of the shares, and that puzzles him. At the same time, he has asked Renault employees to give up raises but doesn’t mind receiving a €14 million annual salary. And I see him reigning supreme for a long time. The fact that he didn’t get fired during the Chinese spy affair shows how untouchable he is.”

DOMINIQUE DRICOT

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