TOKYO (AP) — Some Japanese are using an old expression to describe how Nissan was left out of talks that led to the proposed merger between its French alliance partner Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: “kaya no soto.”
That translates to “outside the mosquito net,” or the unlucky person outside the net, getting bitten while others are safe inside. In other words, the odd man out.
Nissan Motor Co., who has a plant in Tennessee, wasn’t consulted in advance about the proposed merger announced last week, which would create the world’s third-biggest automaker, trailing only Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp.
In a statement Tuesday, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa raised doubts about his company’s continued participation in a longtime alliance with Renault if the merger goes through. A deal merger would “significantly alter” the alliance structure, he said.
“This would require a fundamental review of the existing relationship between Nissan and Renault,” Saikawa wrote. “From the standpoint of protecting Nissan’s interests, Nissan will analyze and consider its existing contractual relationships and how we should operate business in the future.”
Renault’s board met Tuesday and delayed a decision on whether to launch merger talks with FCA. The board will convene again Wednesday to study the proposal. Even if it greenlights merger talks, the process of consultations with unions, the French government, antitrust regulators and others is likely take about a year.
In any case, Nissan doesn’t appear to have much say. The Yokohama-based automaker is 43 percent owned by Renault and holds 15 percent of its French partner. Nissan’s position has weakened since the November arrest of its former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, for alleged financial misconduct. The star executive was credited with leading Renault’s rescue of Nissan from near bankruptcy 20 years ago.
In recent years, until 2018, Nissan had been more profitable than Renault, with a solid reputation for quality and innovation and strong model lineup that includes the March subcompact, Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models.
Partnering with what could be a behemoth Renault-Fiat Chrysler would bring merits of scale, the savings that come from sharing platforms, components and research costs at a time when all the world’s automakers are rushing to develop energy-efficient and autonomous-driving technology.
Saikawa acknowledged potential benefits in his statement, saying that the addition of FCA would expand opportunities for collaboration and further synergies.
But analysts warn such size would pose major coordination and decision-making headaches. Nissan might also simply be dwarfed by its alliance partners.
“There is risk that Nissan will not be able to maintain its independence, its own brand power,” said Tatsuo Yoshida, senior analyst at Sawakami Asset Management in Tokyo. “It’s like the saying: Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
Reflecting widespread opinion, Yoshida said Nissan can’t afford to break with Renault: After two decades together, the automakers — and smaller alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp. — share too many operations and products. Breaking free would take at least several years, spanning the product cycle of a vehicle, the time it takes from the design stage to the next model change.
“They’re already at the point of no return, like a couple that simply cannot get a divorce this late in the game,” he added. In the intensely competitive auto world, going it alone would be perilous for Nissan, or any automaker, though there are a few exceptions, such as Japanese rival Honda Motor Co.
Despite longtime speculation about a full merger with Renault, Nissan has resisted. Should Renault merge with FCA, which combined the American and Italian automakers, the partnership will become even more unbalanced.
In theory, Nissan models and Chrysler models don’t overlap in the U.S. market, so there might be ways they could complement each other. But it’s unclear whether the companies will want such a partnership. In the meantime, Nissan is grappling with problems of its own.
Ghosn’s arrest has tarnished Nissan’s reputation and left it with something of a leadership vacuum, given his vast influence over the company before prosecutors arrested him on charges of under-reporting compensation and breach of trust. Ghosn insists he is innocent but his trial has yet to start and is likely to take months. Saikawa has vowed to beef up the company’s corporate governance.
Nissan’s profit for the fiscal year that ended in March tumbled to 319.1 billion yen ($2.9 billion), down from 746.9 billion yen the year before, its worst showing since the global financial crisis a decade ago. In this fiscal year it’s expected to drop to 170 billion yen, due to restructuring, rising material costs and other expenses. Analysts say Nissan’s North American operations, potentially a lucrative region for global automakers, especially need a fix.
In the unpredictable world of auto alliances, anything’s possible.
It’s conceivable that Saikawa is secretly courting another automaker and could make a surprise announcement, according to Satoru Takada, analyst at Tokyo-based consultancy TIW. But the consensus opinion, for now, is that Nissan’s options are limited.
It can politely put forward its views as the talks progress and hope to jockey for a better position in the group, Takada added.
There’s a risk, though, that Nissan’s partners might take advantage of its weaker position to extract one-sided gains from its manufacturing and technological prowess, he said.
“Renault sure did a number on Nissan,” said Takada. “Nissan has to work hard to retain its say and its freedom.”
Court ruling favors city
in monuments case
MEMPHIS — Appeals judges in Tennessee are backing another court’s decision in support of Memphis’ removal of statues of Confederate leaders Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis from two parks.
In a ruling filed Tuesday, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee in Nashville affirmed a decision by a Davidson County Chancery Court judge concerning the statues’ removal in December 2017.
City officials circumvented a state law limiting the removal of historical memorials from public property by selling the parks to a private nonprofit, which then removed the monuments.
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled last year that the removals did not violate state law because they were on private property when they were torn down.
The appeals court ruled the Sons of Confederate Veterans is not entitled to an injunction preserving the statues.
Ex-college worker charged with student loan fraud
NASHVILLE — A former Tennessee State University admissions worker is charged with diverting student federal aid into his bank accounts in 2014-15.
U.S. Attorney Donald Cochran’s office says 31-year-old Renauld Clayton of Chicago, formerly of Nashville, was indicted last week on charges of student loan fraud, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.
The indictment says the U.S. Department of Education determined $84,506 had been misappropriated and Clayton had fraudulently deposited $60,000-plus into his personal bank accounts. He faces 20 years maximum in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
Nashville Police say they arrested Clayton on separate charges Friday of scheming to divert stolen money into a bank account he created under a fake name and social security number.
A public defender listed for Clayton didn’t immediately answer a voicemail seeking comment.
Nine communities get
NASHVILLE — State officials say nine communities in Tennessee are receiving funds to prepare them for economic development projects that would create jobs.
Gov. Bill Lee said Tuesday that the total $1.3 million in Site Development Grants can be used to meet infrastructure needs and make engineering improvements at sites ready for business projects.
Lee says in a statement that the grants help bring “quality jobs and private investment to rural Tennessee.”
Cities receiving grants are Halls, Jefferson City, Savannah, Shelbyville and Smithville. Entities in Claiborne, Clay, Dickson and Lewis counties also are receiving funding for economic development sites.
The grant program is part of the state’s Rural Economic Opportunity Act.
Couple seeks separate trials
in military fraud case
NASHVILLE — Separate trials are being sought by a Tennessee couple accused of defrauding the U.S. military out of $65 million in a scheme involving prescriptions for pain and scar cream.
The Tennessean reports a recently filed court motion says Jimmy Collins and Ashley Collins each plan to claim the other was the leader of a conspiracy to sell expensive pain and scar cream to Marines in California.
The couple is accused of managing a network of recruiters to convince Marines to sign up for prescriptions for the cream, which was priced at about $14,000 per prescription. An ex-Marine who was the lead recruiter pleaded guilty last year.
Doctors who never examined the Marines wrote the prescriptions that were then filled by a Utah pharmacy that billed military insurance.
Tennessee tries ‘laugh trackers’ at top kids’ destinations
NASHVILLE — Tennessee tourism officials say they’ve counted kids’ laughs to help parents weigh their trip options.
The Department of Tourist Development says it equipped more than 200 kids with wearable “Laugh Trackers” last month for over 450 hours.
The attractions they tried out included the Children’s Museum of Memphis, Discovery Park of America in Union City, Nashville Zoo, Fall Creek Falls in Spencer, Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Hands On! Discovery Center in Gray and Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.
More than 36,000 laughs were recorded, an average of 1.3 per minute. The results and reviews are available on a “Kid Reviewed” website .
The sound-activated trackers connect to Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices and send recordings containing laughter to a secure server, paired with location and heart rate data. The children’s identities stay anonymous.
Arizona reaches settlement in data breach case
PHOENIX — The Arizona Attorney General’s office says a settlement has been reached in the first health care data breach lawsuit involving numerous states.
The office said Tuesday the deal was reached with health care software provider Medical Informatics Engineering Inc. and NoMoreClipboard, LLC, which will pay the states $900,000 and improve data security. The case was filed in Indiana, home to Medical Informatics.
The lawsuit sprang from a May 2015 data breach. Hackers infiltrated a web application run by Medical Informatics and stole the health information of more than 3.9 million individuals, including 26,000 in Arizona. Information included names, Social Security numbers, lab results and diagnoses.
Also participating in the case were Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.