Established carmakers find themselves facing one of the most dynamic and challenging competitive backdrops in recent memory. Strong growth in global unit sales over the next several years will provide a robust tail wind for the industry. But the sources of that growth are changing dramatically, with the historically key markets of Europe, Japan, and North America ceding ground to Brazil, Russia, India, and, especially, China. As a result, carmakers will be forced to expand their regional focus and footprint considerably. Product demand will change in concert, requiring OEMs to extend and customize their product lines to meet the tastes and needs of this new, more diversified customer base. In addition, established players will have to ward off growing competition from emerging-market-based manufacturers and contend with persistent general downward pressure on prices, especially in established markets.
Success in this climate will demand both aggressive moves and a deft touch. Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Renault Nissan, relishes the challenge. His willingness to tackle major transformations—evidenced most dramatically by his resurrection of Nissan in the late 1990s—is legendary, as is his ability to make them work. Ghosn continues to think in bold strokes—evident, for example, in his major investments to position Renault and Nissan at the forefront of the fledgling electric-car market. He is, in short, in it for the long haul with both of his charges, and he is playing to win.
Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner and managing director in the Detroit office of The Boston Consulting Group and coleader of the firm’s Automotive practice, recently sat down with Mr. Ghosn to discuss a range of industry-related topics, including the prospects for electric cars, industry consolidation, how Renault and Nissan are positioned in China and India, and the leadership challenges of pulling companies through hard times. Edited excerpts from the interview, which was conducted in the fall of 2011, follow.