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Tensions between Renault and Nissan, Ford sales tanking in China, not-great U.S. sales numbers, Carlos Ghosn’s movie ideas, and Audi dropping out of the New York Auto Show. All of this and more in The Morning Shift for Monday, Jan. 13, 2020.

1st Gear: Nissan And Renault Still Aren’t On Great Terms

Renault and Nissan—members of the Renault-Nissan alliance which used to be led by the now Interpol-sought Carlos Ghosn, who recently fled Japanese house arrest for Lebanon after Nissan accused him of financial misconduct—are still not doing great. What a surprise!

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Things have gotten to the point in the alliance that the Financial Times reports Nissan is making sure its contingency plans are ready to go, should it decide to officially split from Renault. The Financial Times described senior executives at Nissan “accelerat[ing] secret contingency planning” for a potential split, which would break an alliance that began in 1999.

From the story:

The plans include war-gaming a total divide in engineering and manufacturing, as well as changes to Nissan’s board, according to several sources, and have been ramped up since Mr Ghosn’s dramatic escape from Japan in late December. [...]

Despite efforts to improve relations on both sides, the partnership with Renault — which produces 10m cars a year — had become toxic, said two of the people, with many senior Nissan executives now believing the French carmaker is a drag on its Japanese counterpart.

A full split would probably force both carmakers to seek new partners in an industry grappling with falling sales and rising costs from the shift to electric vehicles.

It would also leave both businesses smaller at a time when rivals are bulking up, with Fiat Chrysler and PSA merging and Volkswagen and Ford forming their own alliance.

The story, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said contingency plans at Nissan focus on engineering and technology—basically, what Nissan gets out of the alliance, and what it would have to do if it broke that relationship off. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Renault shares hit six-year lows Monday in response to the split reports.

The Financial Times has more on the situation here.

2nd Gear: Ford Sales Tank In China

Overall car sales in China were down again in 2019, which we learned officially a few days ago—this time, by roughly 8 percent. That’s a bad sign for cars, given that the Chinese market is the world’s biggest and that it declined for the first time in two decades in 2018.

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But even worse than overall sales are Ford sales in China, which Reuters reports to have been down 26.1 percent last year. From the story:

The U.S. automaker delivered 146,473 vehicles in China in the fourth quarter, down 14.7% year-on-year, Ford said in a statement. In total, it sold 567,854 vehicles over 2019.

Ford has been trying to revive sales in China after its business began slumping in late 2017. Sales sank 37% in 2018, after a 6% decline in 2017.

Anning Chen, president and chief executive of Ford Greater China, said that while 2019 was a “challenging” year for the automaker, it saw its market share in the high-to-premium segment stabilize and its sales decline in the value segment start to narrow in the second-half of the year.

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Ford’s lineup in China does have some funky and interesting cars to American eyes, including a new Taurus (it’s a stretched Fusion) and an EV version of the Territory crossover, a badge-engineered version of a Chinese-designed vehicle.

Reuters adds that Ford, if anything, wants to launch more than 30 new vehicle models in China over the next three years, and that more than a third of them will be electric. Perhaps that will help.

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3rd Gear: U.S. Car Sales Remain Not Great

Car sales in the United States are also not great, if you haven’t caught onto the “sales are generally declining” trend yet. Automotive News reports that U.S. car sales were down 5.2 percent in December.

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Automotive News writes that new-car sales in the U.S. were down in nine of the past 12 months including December, but that the sales total for 2019, about 17.1 million, topped a lot of expectations at the start of the year.

From the story:

Sales have declined just 2.5 percent since peaking in 2016 at a record 17.55 million. [...]

Ford, with an estimated 1.3 percent increase in December, was the only one of the six largest automakers to avoid finishing 2019 with a down month. American Honda sales fell 12 percent in December, and Nissan Group sales plunged 30 percent.

For the full year, Nissan Group’s decline of 148,196 units, a 9.9 percent drop, accounted for more than two-thirds of the industry’s total volume loss.

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Maybe that’ll make Ford feel better about the whole “China” thing.

4th Gear: Carlos Ghosn Says Hollywood Is Interested In His Story

Carlos Ghosn, who’s been accused of doing a lot of things he probably shouldn’t have with large amounts of money, has now mentioned Hollywood is interested in his life story. This is a normal and cool timeline that we all expected after his arrest over allegations of financial misconduct in late 2018. (It is not.)

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Here, just read what he had to say, via Business Insider:

Carlos Ghosn has expressed interest in making a movie about his life before, from meeting with “Birdman” producer John Lesher to being at the center of rumors he was working with Netflix (which the streaming service denies).

Now, Hollywood may be even more interested in the ousted Nissan CEO, now that he’s pulled off an unbelievable escape from 24-hour surveillance on house arrest in Japan to living lavishly in Lebanon.

In a new interview with CBS News, Ghosn said Hollywood had reached out to him about his life story, and responded “Why not?” when asked if he could see a project happening.

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OK.

5th Gear: Audi Drops Out Of The New York Auto Show

Audi is out of the New York Auto Show this year along with BMW and Mercedes, Automotive News reports. It’s another instance of car manufacturers rethinking whether auto shows are worth it, and what approach the shows should take if they do happen.

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Here’s what Audi had to say, via Automotive News:

In a statement to Automotive News on Friday from Tara Rush, Audi of America’s chief communications officer, the German luxury brand confirmed that it would not participate in the 2020 show. In the statement, Rush said it is “important to review the way we bring the Audi experience to life and introduce our new products and innovations to media and consumers.”

Rush said Audi would “continue to evaluate auto shows on a case-by-case basis moving forward to determine if they are the best platform for U.S. and world premieres of our upcoming models.”

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A spokesperson for the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association told Automotive News that it planned to work with local dealers to keep Audi on the show floor this year, and the association’s president, Mark Schienberg, told the outlet that the company’s decision “angered local Audi dealers, who stand to benefit most directly from their brand participating in the show.”

Audi also told Automotive News it wouldn’t be in Detroit later this year.

Reverse: The Grand Prix d’Aviation

On Jan. 13, 1908, French aviator Henry Farman flew a kilometer around a predetermined course at about 25 mph in a minute and 28 seconds, according to Wired. Farmon set a world record and won the $10,000 Grand Prix d’Aviation, which Wired wrote to be the equivalent of about $1.2 million in 2010.

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Neutral: Would You Watch A Movie About Carlos Ghosn?

You know, why not? It’s not like there are many better things to do.