GM Agrees to Mull Kerkorian's Alliance Plan

03 July 2006

Nevada billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, General Motors' largest single shareholder, well and truly set the cat among the pigeons on Friday with a proposal that America's largest indigenous automaker throw in its fortunes with rivals Renault of France and Nissan of Japan.

Kerkorian, a famously interventionist shareholder whose fortune derives from Las Vegas real estate, floated the idea last week in a letter to GM chairman/ceo Rick Wagoner.

The automaker's board agreed to consider the idea, although it could hardly refuse to do so given the size of the stake held by Kerkorian and his affiliates - reportedly around 20%.

A joint statement issued by Renault and Nissan - companies linked via cross-investments and a common ceo, Carlos Ghosn - confirmed that the latter is ready and willing to talk turkey.

Such an alliance would almost certainly place Ghosn at the steering wheel of a single-seat car, casting doubt on Wagoner's future. The former, a legendary figure in the global auto industry, is famed for hauling Nissan back from the brink of financial meltdown in 1999 and transforming it into one of the globe's most profitable carmakers.

According to insiders, Ghosn's blue-sky thinking about a GM/Renault/Nissan triumvirate centers on the potential cost savings especially in the areas of engineering, manufacturing consolidation and the sharing of vehicle 'platforms' - basic product templates capable of development into a range of brand variants.

But an alliance such as that envisaged by Kerkorian and Ghosn could take years to come to fruition.

With the world-weariness of one who's been there, done that and bought the T-shirt, new DaimlerChrysler ceo Dieter Zetsche knows it isn't that easy. "The consultants always tell you there are all kinds of synergies," he told the Wall Street Journal.

DaimlerChrysler, Zetsche admitted, had sometimes "overlooked the feeling of people" during the integration process. "Part of it is psychology."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff