Fiat Chrysler submits offer for Renault merger, could jump-start electric car development

Renault logo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles logo

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles proposed a merger Monday with French automaker Renault that would result in one of the world’s largest automakers by volume and create one of the most diverse.

The wide-ranging, multi-billion-dollar bid was submitted Monday by FCA after a furious weekend of negotiations that may have started off as an exploration of loose manufacturing alliances but resulted in full-blown merger talks. The merged automaker could produce nearly every type of car from small European hatchback to massive heavy-duty pickup truck.

“The combined business would sell approximately 8.7 million vehicles annually, would be a world leader in EV technologies, premium brands, SUVs, pickup trucks and light commercial vehicles and would have a broader and more balanced global presence than either company on a standalone basis,” FCA said in a statement Monday.

Renault said in a short statement Monday that its board of directors would consider the “friendly proposal.” No timetable was given for a decision on the merger.

FCA’s interest in the deal could include Renault’s significant investments in EV development—an area in which FCA has sorely lagged. Under former CEO Carlos Ghosn, Renault quickly adopted electrification and has become Europe’s largest EV manufacturer, by sales. By contrast, FCA’s vehicle portfolio has recently focused on big, heavy vehicles with little electrification—and no clear timetable for their deployment in markets where EVs are increasingly becoming mandatory. In Europe alone, FCA has paid hundreds of millions for emissions credits to offset their big, thirsty vehicle lineup.

The merger between FCA and Renault could also spread the cost of autonomous-vehicle development between the two companies, neither of which have made bigger strides than rivals such as General Motors or Ford.

Perhaps the biggest question for the proposed merger would be the continued fate of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance tenuously formed (with the first two members) 20 years ago. The arrest of CEO Carlos Ghosn last year threw into doubt whether the Alliance could continue. Renault’s ownership stake in Nissan is much larger than Nissan’s ownership stake in Renault, and tensions have risen between France and Japan for Renault’s outsize influence on Nissan despite its smaller profits.

During Ghosn’s tenure as CEO of Nissan and Renault, both automakers pushed forward heavily on EV development and Nissan was the first mainstream automaker to sell an EV across the U.S. with the Leaf. Renault also has pushed forward on EV sales and new energy development in Europe. Renault has not sold a car in the U.S. since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The proposed merger also could be a boon to both automakers’ small positions in China, which is a sore spot for both.

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