Ghosn with the wonderful IDx concept that Nissan did not put into production. Pictured in 2013.
Photo: Getty Images
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With each passing day, it’s becoming more clear that—and I hate to say this of someone who is cool enough to be on Interpol’s most wanted list—Carlos Ghosn wasn’t good at running a car company. All that and more in The Morning Shift for January 9, 2020.

1st Gear: Carlos Ghosn Wanted What?

Yesterday we got Carlos Ghosn’s first press conference since his daring (?) escape from Japan involving riding a train and hiding in a box. Ghosn did not implicate Shinzō Abe and the entirety of Japan’s conservative government, which bummed me out as it would have been very juicy. He did, however, include some other wild shit, as noted in this Financial Times review of the affair:

He believes he had to escape or else he would’ve died in prison, even though he is 65 and he was facing 15 years.

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He thinks that Renault-Nissan missed out on what became a failed merger with Fiat-Chrysler. FCA actually merged with PSA, a real celebration of the mediocre, and Ghosn is actually kind of bummed Nissan didn’t get all the good shit that FCA has to offer, like, uh, the Dodge Journey.

Here’s his quote from the Reuters transcripted highlights:

In 2017, the alliance was the number one automotive group. Three companies growing, profitable. We were preparing to add Fiat Chrysler to the group because I was negotiating with John Elkann for Fiat Chrysler to join.

There is no more alliance.

The alliance missed the unmissable which is Fiat Chrysler. That is unbelievable, they go with PSA. How can you miss that huge opportunity to become the dominant player in the industry?

***

I had contact with FCA. We had a lot of understanding, we have very good dialogue, unfortunately I was arrested before we could come to a conclusion.

(Had planned a meeting for January 2019 to try to conclude the deal.)

It’s a great opportunity for PSA, it’s a big waste for Renault.

Ghosn also claims that GM offered to double his pay to come work for the General, which has got to be one of the worst jobs in the car world. I can’t think of another car company that hates an outsider’s vision more than GM, or has more anti-progress momentum, but Ghosn thinks otherwise, saying “I made a mistake, I should have accepted the offer.”

The more Ghosn talks, the more that it’s brought to mind that while “the Cost Killer” Ghosn’s campaign of integration and trimming saved Nissan from the brink around the turn of the millennium, he also kicked off an era of stagnation at Nissan like nothing it has seen before. What the fuck does Nissan even make now of any interest whatsoever? It has been under Ghosn’s tenure that just about every halfway decent car Nissan once made has become painfully dull.

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Even his beloved Leaf has wilted. There is no great proliferation of EV tech into other segments from Nissan or Infiniti, no crossovers, no sedans, no luxury cars to rival Tesla. Just an awkwardly sized hatchback.

His era’s lasting automotive icon has been the Murano CrossCab.

The more Ghosn lets himself talk, the more clear it is that this guy sucked.

2nd Gear: China Still Down

We began 2019 with the startling realization that the biggest auto market in the world was on the decline after two decades of unbridled growth. And now that we can look back fully on the end of 2019, we can see that it’s still in decline, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Chinese car sales dropped for a second consecutive year in 2019 but likely bottomed out, an industry group said.

The number of passenger vehicles sold in the world’s largest auto market slipped to 20.7 million, down 7.4% from 2018, according to data released Thursday by the China Passenger Car Association, a trade organization of large foreign and domestic car makers and dealers. That exceeded the 5.8% drop in 2018.

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I’m sure this will all turn around in 2020, with the cool hand of Trump guiding international trade and stability.

3rd Gear: Don’t Worry About The Environment, There’s A $2Bn EV Bill Going To Congress

With climate change destroying more and more American lives and livelihoods with each passing day it, it’s pretty clear that America needs to totally rehab its transportation thinking. We need to drastically cut car commuting, boost public transportation with a ferocity not seen since the 19th century, and fight against car-based suburbia as a whole.

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Or, uh, we could just increase some EV subsidies!

A new bill from U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell aims to do just that, as the Detroit News reports:

The legislation, known as the USA Electrify Forward Act, directs U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to “accelerate domestic manufacturing efforts directed toward the improvement of batteries, power electronics and other technologies for use in plug-in electric vehicles.”

[...]

The bill would appropriate $2 billion annually for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program from 2021 to 2035.

The office of the Michigan congresswoman cited a May 2019 AAA survey showing only 16% of Americans said they would consider buying an electric vehicle because most consumers were concerned about purchase price, repair costs and battery reliability.

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I shouldn’t be too glib, because every little bit counts. But still, I’m tired of the attitude that if we just switched from gas-burning cars to EVs we’d be fine. Get it so Americans don’t need a car at all.

4th Gear: CES Is Over Self-Driving Cars

We at Jalopnik have talked about this for some time, going back at least to our 2017 feature “What If Autonomous Cars Just Never Happen?”

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Whether or not the tech will ever actually work out is one thing. Whether or not the hype industry of CES is interested in it getting investment dollars in 2020 is a bit more clear. Germany’s Der Spiegel went to CES this year and found that “the autopilot euphoria is gone,” reporting through Google Translate:

The great autopilot euphoria is over, you can hear that at CES by most manufacturers: Too expensive, too complex, too complex and in the long run probably not ripe for the official blessing. Instead, corporations and suppliers are increasingly restricting themselves to so-called autonomy levels 2 or 3, where people are allowed to put their hands on their lap, but after a handover time of a few seconds they have to be able to take care of the taxes themselves. ZF, for example, surprises the knowledgeable trade fair audience with a package of sensors and electronics, with which the end customer price for such a motorway assistant according to Level 2+ can drop below 1000 euros.

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This is not a great signal of wisdom on the part of the tech industry, as what was hype for CES this year was flying cars, as the New York Times reports. Blegh.

5th Gear: What Investors Do Love: Tesla

While autonomous car hype may not be blowing up at CES, the company that sells cars with what it markets as Autopilot is doing well. Tesla stock is up, as Bloomberg notes in a wire report:

Elon Musk has lots of reasons to dance.

Tesla Inc. shares have been on a tear since October, when the electric-vehicle maker posted a surprise third-quarter profit and said its Model Y will launch months ahead of schedule. After surging to another record close Tuesday, the stock climbed as much as 4.2% on Wednesday, boosting the company’s market value to more than $88 billion — more than Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. combined.

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As a reminder, Tesla is run by this guy:

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Reverse: Where Else Was Anyone Supposed To Run Away To?

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Neutral: Was Ghosn Even Any Good?

What’s your lasting memory of the Ghosn era? What would you have done differently had you been in his seat?

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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