Daimler, Nissan, Renault Partner for Economics, Product Sharing

By Michelle Krebs April 7, 2010

Daimler, Nissan and Renault confirmed Wednesday a wide-ranging partnership that includes Renault Nissan Daimler logo.jpg equity stakes in each other, joint development of vehicles --  from small cars to light commercial vehicles and possibly luxury cars -- and technology sharing on batteries, electric cars and powertrains for small to luxury autos.

The partnership is the latest step in the consolidation of global automakers forced by the roller-coaster economy and waning corporate profits at a time when automakers must invest substantially in low-margin small cars and expensive technologies to meet more stringent emission and fuel economy standards.

In the past year, Fiat acquired a stake in Chrysler and Volkswagen in Suzuki to achieve similar economies of scale, particularly for small cars - and as a way to take on global volume leader Toyota.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche and Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn made the announcement jointly in Brussels Wednesday, after which they held a conference call with American media.

"The name of the game is to be present everywhere so we are going to move for more and more consolidation," Ghon told reporters. 

Added Zetsche: "Our skills complement each other very well. Right away, we are strengthening our competitiveness in small and compact car segments and are reducing our CO2 footprint -- both on a long-term basis."

Elements of the Deal

Small cars: Renault and Daimler will jointly develop the next generation of Smart Fortwo models, including electric versions and the Renault Twingo. The two vehicles will share architectures and parts. Electric versions will be available at launch.

It was small-car joint development that prompted talks between Daimler and Renault last December. Zetsche said Daimler had concluded it could not competitively make small cars because of high costs and low volumes so it began negotiations with Renault. The talks eventually expanded into equity swaps and a wider range of projects.

The automakers said the jointly developed Smart and Renault models would be launched starting in 2013. Two-seaters will be built at Smart's plant in Hombach, France. Four-seaters will be built at Renault's plant in Novo Mesto, Slovenia. 

Daimler, Renault and Nissan will also jointly develop gasoline and diesel engines for the Smart and Twingo. The same engine will be modified for a new generation of premium compact cars for Daimler's Mercedes-Benz luxury marque, including the next-generation Mercedes-Benz A- and B-Class cars. Jointly produced transmissions will go into those cars as well. 

Technology sharing: The companies will explore joint development of technologies related to electric vehicles and batteries. Nissan has an aggressive electric-vehicle strategy that kicks off with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf.

Powertrain sharing: Daimler will provide gasoline and diesel engines, four- and six-cylinder engines -- for Nissan's premium cars, including its Infiniti luxury brand. Nissan-Renault will share its three- and four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines with Daimler.

The arrangements will help both companies financially by filling factory capacity.

Luxury car study: The trio said they will study future areas of cooperation, including sharing parts between Daimler's Mercedes-Benz brand and Nissan's Infiniti brand. Ghosn told reporters Mercedes and Infiniti could eventually share platforms to underpin their luxury cars in the future. He predicted help from Daimler will help double or even triple Infiniti volume "in the midterm."

Light commerical vehicles: Renault will help Mercedes develop a new entry-level, ligyt commercial vehicle to be launched from 2012 and built at Renault's plant in Maubeuge, France. The two automakers will share engine parts in their expanded offering of mid-size vans, including the Mercedes-Benz Vito. Mercedes is developing a small delivery van based on the Renault Kangoo.

In response to a question from AutoObserver, Daimler's Zetsche said sharing of plant capacity in the U.S. also is possible between Daimler and Nissan. Daimler builds Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Alabama and recently announced it would add C-Class production there. Nissan has numerous assembly and powertrain operations in the U.S., mostly in the South.

Zetsche said shared facilities for the U.S. production of light commercial vehicles is likely. Mercedes now imports and sells the Sprinter cargo van. Nissan has been converting its Canton, Miss., plant to a light commercial vehicle plant.

Parts sharing, cost savings: Zetsche and Ghosn said the automakers would enjoy "additional synergies" - i.e. cost savings -- through joint purchasing and sharing of operational benchmarks and best practices.

Ghosn projected the synergies could generate nearly $3 billion in savings and added sales over five years. Zetsche said Daimler would reap similar similar synergies but did not give a number.

Global alliance: The trio's work will be global, focused in the U.S., China and Japan.

Equity stakes: The three companies will take a 3.1-percent mutual equity stake in each other The share exchange will see Renault issue new stock for Daimler's 3.1 per cent stake in the French carmaker. Daimler will get 3.1 per cent of Nissan from its existing shares, while Renault and Nissan will each get 1.55 per cent of Daimler's treasury shares.

Renault owns 44.3 per cent of Nissan and Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault under their alliance formed in 1999.

Under the newest arrangement, Daimler will swap a 3.1-percent stake, valued at $1.6 billion for shares in Renault SA and in Nissan Motor Co. The CEOs emphasized the equity swap is a one-time action and they do not intend to boost their stakes. They added that their arrangement does not preclude alliances with other automakers either, though those would be subject of approval by all parties first. -- Michelle Krebs, Senior Analyst and Editor at Large


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