DETROIT, (AP) – General Motors has called off discussions with Renault and Nissan on creating a grand automaking alliance that proponents argued would have created significant savings but critics said could have been a dangerous distraction from GM’s turnaround.
General Motors Corp., Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. discussed the idea for nearly three months. But they said Wednesday that talks ended after Renault and Nissan declined to pay a premium for reaping what GM said would have been a disproportionate share of the benefits.
France’s Renault and Japan’s Nissan also wanted to acquire a significant stake in GM — an idea the U.S. company was not enthusiastic about, particularly without payment of some kind of premium. GM also said the structure that Renault-Nissan advocated would have kept it from forming joint ventures with other companies.
Renault-Nissan said compensation would go against “the spirit of any successful alliance.”
The companies have not given details about the size of the proposed premium or the stake Renault-Nissan wanted.
The idea to join the alliance was backed by billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, who owns a 9.9 percent stake in GM. It fueled speculation that Kerkorian was dissatisfied with Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner and hoped to replace him with Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who is widely admired for leading a turnaround at the Japanese company. Wall Street responded positively to the idea of a linkup, but many industry observers said a complicated alliance could distract GM from its own turnaround efforts.
GM shares fell 9 cents Wednesday to close at $33.32 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The world’s largest automaker lost more than $10.6 billion last year and has been steadily losing market share to Asian rivals. But last quarter, if not for restructuring charges, the company would have logged a hefty profit — proof, management says, that the turnaround is working.
“We felt that the complexities of working with three companies could slow us down,” Wagoner said.
The announcement came a week after Wagoner and Ghosn met face to face in Paris.
After the meeting, GM officials expressed some skepticism about the proposed alliance. Kerkorian then turned up the heat by announcing he might increase his stake in the company and calling for an evaluation of the alliance idea by independent advisers.
Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp. said Wednesday that it was disappointed.
“We believe that General Motors’ participation in a global alliance with Renault and Nissan would have enabled GM to realize substantial synergies and cost savings,” Tracinda spokeswoman Carrie Bloom said in a statement. “We regret that the board did not obtain its own independent evaluation of the alliance.”
But Wagoner stressed that the board voted unanimously to end the talks. Tracinda is represented on the board by Jerome York.
Wagoner also said the board sought outside financial advice on the proposal, but he declined to say whether he believed that satisfied Kerkorian’s demand for an independent analysis.
Wagoner said all three companies agreed that the benefits were weighted in favor of Renault-Nissan, and particularly in favor of Nissan.
Dominique Thormann, senior vice president for administration and finance at Nissan North America, said all the companies stood to gain, though he acknowledged that “it didn’t exactly land 50-50.”
But he said compensation would defeat the purpose of an alliance.
“Let’s say you and I decide to do something together and the benefit is $3 to you and $1 to me,” Thormann said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. “I’m still a dollar better off if I hadn’t done it with you; you’re $3 better off because you did something with me. Now why would I ask you for a dollar so that we’d be $2 even? … Where would be the motivation?”
He added that quantifying the exact worth of the alliance to each company would be impossible.
Thormann said having each company hold a significant stake in the other companies — as the Renault-Nissan alliance is structured — was important in order to “cement” the relationship and ensure that each partner has an interest in the success of the others.
Wagoner declined to term the board’s decision a personal victory or a referendum on his leadership.
“We just keep it simple,” he said. “We’re just, everyday, making the decisions that are right for the business.”