Ghosn: Not aiming for GM CEO post
On eve of talks with GM chief, CEO of Nissan and Renault says he doesn't want top job at U.S. automaker if alliance is struck.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Carlos Ghosn said Thursday that he doesn't want the top job at General Motors Corp. even if an alliance is struck between GM and Nissan and Renault, his two companies.
On the eve of talks with GM CEO Rick Wagoner on Friday, Ghosn said being CEO of two major automakers is enough, even though he could be credited as the man who saved GM (Charts) if he became chief there.
"This is not my objective," he said. "It's not a substitution of management that we're talking about."
In an interview with CNN and CNNMoney.com, Ghosn, a native of Brazil, also said he only wants an alliance if the idea is embraced by top GM management.
"It [an alliance] is a good idea only if the GM corporation, if top management, wants to see it," he said.
Asked if he believes GM management is truly open to the idea of an alliance, or is just holding talks to satisfy shareholder Kirk Kerkorian, who owns a 9.9 percent stake in GM and recommened an alliance, Ghosn said he's going into the talks on the assumption they are serious about a linkup.
"If I sense at any moment the appetite was not here, that this is to satisfy some pressure, we will stop," he said.
While Ghosn said he isn't interested in the top post at GM, he would be open to a position on the GM board if there is some kind of alliance, although he said it was premature to discuss such details.
He also wants to see GM take an ownership position in Nissan (Charts) and Renault, in addition to Renault and Nissan taking a stake in GM if there is an alliance. But again, he would not comment on speculation about the size of the stake the companies might take in one another.
"The existence of shareholding guarantees the seriousness of the work," said Ghosn. "It gives to all the parties and all the actors reinforcement this is not a short-term relationship but a long-term relationship."
Ghosn said that he also believes a decision on whether to move ahead with an alliance will be made relatively quickly - possibly within a matter of weeks. He said he certainly sees a decision being made by year-end.
GM spokeswoman Gina Proia said the company had no comment on Ghosn's comments. She referred to a statement by Wagoner after he testified on GM's health care costs before a Senate committee Thursday that the company is eager for discussions to take place.
"I think we want to move expeditiously," Wagoner said. "Everyone would want to move to a yes or no decision promptly on something like this."
'Respects' GM turnaround plan
Ghosn said he "respects" the GM turnaround plan, which includes cutting 30,000 hourly jobs in North America, closing a dozen plants and facilities and slashing health care costs. But he said it's too soon to call it a good plan.
"It's good if it delivers results, it's not good if it doesn't," he said. "This is a good rule for all of us. We're judged not by what we say or what we plan, we're judged by what we deliver."
GM lost $10.6 billion last year, though it reported net income in the first quarter despite continued losses from its core North American auto operations. Its credit rating has been cut to junk bond status due to a risk of bankruptcy, although company executives have repeatedly denied plans to file Chapter 11.
But the same executives have yet to give a forecast as to when GM expects to return to profitability.
Ghosn said GM's problems are not going to be solved by an alliance with Renault and Nissan, that it has to address problems such as health care and labor costs on its own, even if an alliance could save money for its partners.
And while he said he's not interested in being the CEO at GM, he suggested that an outsider might have an easier time cutting costs and turning around the troubled automaker than would someone like Wagoner, who has risen through the ranks of the company.
"I don't think it's mandatory (to have an outsider to cut costs). But I think it's easier," he said. "In my experience at Nissan, I was able to do a lot of things that somebody coming from inside Nissan would have found more difficult to do."
Ghosn said it's too soon to discuss possible cost savings. But among the examples he cited was having GM build Nissans at plants here, rather than closing North American capacity while Nissan is building plants here.
"Why would you have one side close a plant while the other side opens a plant," he said.
Ghosn, 52, was executive vice president of Renault for just over two years when he was named chief operating officer of Nissan in June 1999 at the start of the Nissan-Renault alliance. He was named CEO in of Nissan two years later, and CEO of Renault in April 2005.
Nissan was seen at the brink of bankruptcy when Ghosn joined the company but it has become profitable. He said the company made $3 billion on its North American operations last year, even with only 6 percent of U.S. vehicle sales in 2005.
Worldwide, Nissan-Renault had just less than 10 percent of global market share in 2005, according to CSM Worldwide, placing it fourth behind GM, Toyota, Ford Motor and ahead of such powerhouses as Volkswagen, DaimlerChrysler, and Honda.
Related: GM to hold talks with Nissan-Renault
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