CNBC Exclusive: CNBC Transcript: Former Renault-Nissan Chairman & CEO Carlos Ghosn speaks with CNBC’s “Closing Bell” today, discussing that Covid will accelerate auto industry consolidation, and the old Nissan was always working against him.
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Carlos Ghosn: Covid will accelerate auto industry consolidation, companies with weak vision will collapse
Carlos Ghosn: The ‘Old Nissan’ was always working against me
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SARA EISEN: Do you think that COVID-19 will have a material, long-lasting impact on the global auto industry?
CARLOS GHOSN: Well, it, it, yeah, it will have an impact. It's gonna accelerate the consolidation of the industry. You I think clearly a lot of car maker are gonna have a very hard time. They already have the hard time last, last year. They're gonna continue to have a hard time because COVID, even if they find a vaccine immediately, it's gonna take probably one year before things start to come back to normal. And a lot of company are gonna be struggling. They're gonna be stopping. And obviously, the weakest one are the one with no vision, or very weak vision or distorted vision, in my opinion, are gonna collapse. Now, collapsing doesn't mean that they're gonna go bankrupt. They're probably gonna be acquired one way or the other, by one, one of the stronger car, car makers. And so consolidation's gonna continue. It's gonna be accelerated. Car is always gonna be here. Obviously, we're gonna have more electric cars. We're gonna have more autonomous cars. The direction is very clear. It's gonna continue to this direction. But mobility will continue to develop in the world, no matter, no matter if COVID is here for one year or three years.
EISEN: You also called 2020 in your book as the year of besides COVID, of Tesla. And we have seen this enormous climb. I know you, you put in an electric vehicle program in Nissan early on. Do you think Tesla deserves this kind of sky high, tech like valuation?
GHOSN: Look, Elon Musk has done a great job into really boosting his company and establishing a vision. And giving, giving incredible path towards competing in the rest of the industry. And the market is rewarding him for this. In you know, when Tesla's market cap is $400 billion and a company like Renault is $7 billion or a company like Nissan is twenty bi- $25 billion, well, it speaks a lot about where the market is betting the, the future will be. And I can't blame them. You know, in a certain way, I can't blame them. Now is it excessive or not? Well this will depend a lot on the future performance of, of Tesla. But I must say that Elon has done a great job into getting out all the potential of the company and exciting the markets. And this is to his benefit. Then great, good for him.
GHOSN: For me as, as a foreigner, I'm a little bit surprised that there is an agreement between the U.S. and Japan on extradition because, knowing you know I have lived in the United States. I've seen firsthand the legal system in the United States. And, frankly, the defense exists, the judge are really the bosses, prosecutors doing their job. It's a kind of very balanced system. But when you take a look at what's going on in Japan, where the prosecutor is the boss and judge is a kind of a, you know, nice organizer and the defender have practically no position, I'm, I'm, I'm wondering what's the logic of two system as different as the one existing in the United States and the one in Japan leads to cooperation between the two country and extradition between the two country. It's, it's still a mystery for me.
EISEN: Yeah. And, of course, you're referring to Michael Taylor who has been extradited by the State Department and the DOJ, now pushing this federal judge to reject a last-minute request by him and his son to be extradited to Japan for helping you escape. What was your reaction to hearing that decision?
GHOSN: Well, well, shock. I, I was never expecting this to happen because I have been unfortunately, experimenting the, the system in Japan with all its, you know, uncomprehensible, you know, difficult to understand way of treating suspects. And sending two American citizens to go through the system by the administration. And I can’t, I cannot think two seconds that they're not aware about you know, the extremes of the Japanese system, is for me very difficult to understand.
EISEN: There's also Greg Kelly, who's dealing with the Japanese system as well, your former top aide, who's on trial there for, for allegedly helping you under-report pay. Have you had any contact with him?
GHOSN: No. Unfortunately, no because I would put him in jeopardy. He, he is, he is forbidden by the prosecutor to have any contact with me. I can't contact him, obviously, because now I'm free in Lebanon. And this is, this is also an interesting case where Greg Kelly has been held back in Japan for now two years. His trial has started on one charge. And the charge is complicity in not stating a compensation which has neither been decided nor paid, which is again very difficult to understand. He has been held back in Japan for two years. He's gonna go for a trial. It's gonna last one year. God knows what's gonna be the consequence of this trial. But you know, and I, I remind you that he has settled in the United States for a relatively modest amount with, with so, so you have a total imbalance between what's going on in Japan and going on in the United States. Which is fine, except that we're talking about U.S. citizens.
EISEN: Right. What do you think's gonna happen to him?
GHOSN: Look, I think if there was some kind of justice in Japan, he, he, he is obviously now if, if he's innocent, then Japan has a problem because, I mean, I've been arrested by the way, for this same charge for no reasons. Which obviously will have a lot of consequences not only on the system, but also on Nissan, which in a certain way colluded with the prosecutor to establish this machination.
EISEN: I read the book. I learned a lot about the history of the auto industry and, and the alliance that you built. Nissan, Renault, the success that you had. Why ultimately do you think they turned on you?
GHOSN: Well, because they did not want any additional convergence between Renault and Nissan. They were afraid that we would be heading toward a merger. And frankly, I was against a merger because I'm convinced from a management point of view that it would be a complete mistake to merge the two companies because then we would end up with you know, first rates and second rates and which usually is at the base of collapse of many mergers. I was against it. But they thought that I would collude with the French government to establish a merger even though I was against it. And they decided just to get rid of me in a way which, frankly, is neither subtle nor very smart.
EISEN: You call it old Nissan, you refer to for the company that you led. When did you realize that, that old Nissan was working against you?
GHOSN: Well, old Nissan had always worked against me since 1999. When I arrived in 1999, you can imagine that a lot of, you know, Japanese were against the fact that a foreigner would come, would turn around successfully a major company and would become some kind of a role model in the industry of Japan. A model for change, model for globalization, model for openness, etc. So, they didn't like it. I, I knew that existed through the company. I didn't wanna fight them. I wanna fight them not by, you know, persecuting them, but by demonstrating to them that this is the way to growth. To a strong performance of the company, through a strong growth, through profit, and through a good vision and a nice strategy. Unfortunately, at a certain point in time because of this exacerbation of nationalistic point of view, you, I must also say, to maneuvers coming from the French side, which was not very smart. We ended up into the situation where this alliance is collapsing even after 17 or 18 years of remarkable work. And this alliance, after having reached the status of the largest automotive group in the world in 2017 and 2018 is today crumbling.
EISEN: What would you tell a foreign CEO that was considering taking a job atop a Japanese company?
GHOSN: Make, make sure before you go that the hostage, hostage justice system in Japan has changed, frankly. I, I mean I, I never, I had some suspicion on the justice system in Japan when I've seen so many scandals of Japanese company where never a Japanese executive was arrested or was tried. You know, we had a Fukushima problem, we have the airbags of Takata, etc. And frankly, even though there have been a lot of casualties and a lot of I mean, nobody, nobody, nobody really paid for that, which was surprising for me. But I never thought that we will end up with a system where the prosecutors prevail in 99.4% of the cases. It, it's unbelievable. I mean I didn't know that, even though I lived in Japan for 19 years. I never thought this statistic was serious. But having been through the system, I'm a little bit surprised that it's only 99.4%, that it's not 100%.
EISEN: When you planned your escape obviously, it was daring. There's a lot written about it. Did you ever think it wouldn't work?
GHOSN: Oh yeah. I, I knew, I knew it was risky. But you know what? I, I was already in hell. So probably the risk is if, if I fail, I would be in a darker corner of hell. But if, if this was successful, then I would be in a completely different world. And that's why I think it was worth it, even though it was, it was very risky. But all the tricks the dirty tricks in this used against me. I mean, I was forbidden to see my wife or to talk to her. I was forbidden to see some of my children or talk to them. I, I didn't have any speedy trial, every, and they started to tell me that the trial was gonna last four to five years and I would be happy if I end up only with one guilty. I mean, all the dirty tactics used to get me to a confession, get me to a confession show the real nature of the system in Japan. And the system which, by the way, is fought internally in Japan by a lot of lawyers and some of the opposition party, who are really consider that the system is not at the same level of the country and I mean the country is not served by a system like, like this. So, for me, getting out of the system was the only objective. I was ready for this, for the ultimate sacrifice, which was if it would fail, I, I knew that you know, there would be no redemption.
EISEN: Will you ever leave Lebanon again?
GHOSN: I hope so. I hope, I hope so. I will, I will leave. I probably will never go back to Japan, unless they change the hostage justice system, their hostage justice system and opposition party take the leadership of the country. That's my only hope to one day I wanna come back to Japan. But I hope that I will be able to fight the red card, the red notice from Interpol and be able to leave. And it's possible because you know that Interpol usually doesn't get involved into cases, in three cases. First, if there is a violation of human rights. Well in my case, I have plenty of demonstration of this. The second if there is a political interference. In my case also, I have everything to prove it. And third, if the case does not, you know, is not part of the normal local, legal system and even the prime minister of Japan said, "I wish this story would have been told into the boardroom of Nissan." So, I, I have all the reasons to attract the attention of Interpol that they should just give up caring of this story which mean to remove the, the red card. And in this case, what's gonna be left is only I cannot go to Japan.
EISEN: Where, where would you wanna go?
GHOSN: Well, obviously, France, Brazil, United States, where my, my children live. And the children of my wife live. Everywhere in the world. I mean, I'm not, I'm not unhappy to be stable in, in, in Lebanon today. But at, at a certain point in time, I wanna recover my freedom of, of move for a very simple reason is I'm innocent.
EISEN: What else can we expect from you, Carlos, in the near term? Everybody's waiting for the, the James Bond style movie to come out.
GHOSN: Well, I don't, I don't know if it's gonna be a James but anyway, you're gonna have a documentary and you're gonna have the fiction. The documentary is gonna be retracing exactly the facts of what, what happened. And you're gonna have a lot of witnesses. You know, in, in this kind of story at the beginning when, when the incidents happen, people are afraid to talk. Fortunately for me, little by little, they start to open their mouths and tell the truth. And that's, that's what I'm hoping for. That at the end of the day in front of the powerful attack launched by Nissan, Japanese prosecutors, supported by members of the Japanese government and relayed unfortunately by, by a kind of silence from the French side that people will have seen what happened and are able to witness and help me reestablish the truth.