It was a merger of equals, bringing together automakers with a strong presence in Europe and the Americas. The deal seemed to emerge from nowhere and just as quickly it died. Whatever thoughts you had about a Fiat Chrysler Renault tie-up, it isn’t going to happen. At least not in the near future.
Fiat suddenly pulled out of the deal on Wednesday, reportedly weary of the delays it ultimately pinned on the French government. Renault itself was onboard — but the company is also partially owned by the French, thus government involvement was and is an important consideration in the manner the automaker is operated.
Ghosn is Gone
Apparently, the French were waiting on Nissan’s feedback, a company allied with Renault. Although not directly involved in the merger, Nissan would have a significant say in how the alliance would continue after the merger. At first, the Japanese automaker seemed indifferent to the merger, but the French were concerned that the alliance might unravel later. Further, where Carlos Ghosn once held Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi together, his leadership is no longer a factor. In fact, Ghosn is in legal trouble with Nissan and that dilemma extends to the Japanese government itself.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave! (When first we practise to deceive!)
Although deception isn’t listed as one of the reasons for the failed merger (with apologies to Sir Walter Scott), a lack of trust certainly was. Indeed, the post-mortem showed much weariness on Fiat’s part in getting the French government’s approval, which again, was based on Nissan’s backing. An initial delay turned into a second delay, which soon morphed into a postponement of at least five days. That last setback was too much, so FCA officially canceled the deal.
Bigland Whistleblower Lawsuit
While all this was happening, another story emerged that might have helped scuttle the deal. On Wednesday, FCA’s head of Ram truck sales, Reid Bigland, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against his employer. This stunning development comes as the federal government continues to review the automaker’s sales figures.
In particular, the SEC noted that the company reported inflated sales, which could have an impact on investors. In his lawsuit, Bigland charged that FCA pinned the blame on him and withheld most of his compensation in 2018, in part to cover fines it attributes to the executive. The executive is seeking to clear his name and regain lost compensation, reportedly in the millions of dollars.
Bigland is also the only FCA executive to sell all his shares in the automaker. That said, CEO Mike Manley sold $3.5 million in company shares immediately after the FCA-Renault merger was announced. Exactly what the sales figures and share selling have to do with the aborted merger isn’t known, although it adds an interesting wrinkle to the story.
FCA: Moving Forward
With the failed merger now in its rearview mirror, FCA will have to address the Bigland suit and settle with the federal government. It is never a good thing when a top executive files suit, especially one from one someone so influential. Bigland is also the CEO of FCA Canada.
Besides the Bigland suit, the company must continue its focus on two core brands: Jeep and Ram. Jeep has become the company’s star player, driving sales and profits to bolster the company. The automaker plans to build a new manufacturing plant in Detroit, where it will produce a pair of full-size and upscale Jeep models.
The Ram brand is also thriving and delivers its own share of the profits. The redesigned Ram 1500 recently nudged the Chevrolet Silverado out of second place among full-size pickup trucks and continues to garner a larger slice of the sales pie.
Finally, FCA will have to plan a future without another automaker, at least not with Renault. Had it merged with Renault, it would have gained access to the French brand’s electric vehicle platform, saving the company billions of dollars. As it now stands, FCA will bear that cost alone along with the added expense of developing autonomous vehicles in-house.
See Also — Fiat Chrysler Renault Merger Talk Heightens