Road car news: Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn arrested

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Carlos Ghosn, chairman of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi is arrested; Aston Martin confirms DBX SUV; Porsche sets a new Nürburgring record… again

Carlos Ghosn

As if the boardrooms of the automobile industry had not been sufficiently shaken to their cores by Dieselgate, news came as Motor Sport closed for press that Carlos Ghosn, chairman of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi, had been arrested. Seen as a whole, the organisation known as the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance sold 10.61 million cars in 2017, placing it ahead of Toyota, General Motors and Ford, and the merest fraction behind the Volkswagen Group, still the largest car company in the world.

Ghosn’s detainment came as a shock to the outside world. However, it was subsequently revealed that he had been the subject of a lengthy internal investigation. This had revealed a massive under-reporting of his salary over a five-year period, amounting to a sum equivalent to £34 million. Ghosn, who has reportedly denied any wrongdoing to prosecutors, is yet to make a public statement.

Nevertheless, Nissan ousted him from the company and a few days later Mitsubishi did the same. If the accusations levelled at him prove accurate it is impossible to see him continuing in his roles at Renault.

The French company’s share price fell 13 per cent on the day the news became public. Some have speculated that this is a boardroom coup but, whatever the truth, unless the charges from the months-long probe turn out to be entirely baseless, Ghosn’s reputation would seem to be irrevocably tainted.

Of course, company chairs come and go with nary a blip to the stock value, but Ghosn is anything but another chairman and the market reaction reflects not just the knee-jerk shock of the allegations, but how important Ghosn has been to the companies that, at the time of writing, he still runs.

If there is a demi-god figure in the car industry today, a modern Henry Ford or Ferdinand Piëch, that person is Ghosn. The 64-year-old French-Brazilian masterminded complete turnarounds in the business fortunes of Renault and Nissan, forging a partnership between the two ailing giants as culturally unlikely as it was commercially successful. He made radical cuts, re-asserted the brand identities of both companies and exploited the economies of scale brought by the Alliance to the maximum. It was also Ghosn who decided that Renault and Nissan would become synonymous with zero-emissions vehicles in this decade, in much the same way as Toyota became a byword for hybrid in the last. To that end Nissan launched the Leaf in 2009, the world’s first mainstream electric production car from a major manufacturer.

It is far too early to say what the consequences of Ghosn’s arrest will be. But with Renault owning far more of Nissan than vice-versa – yet Nissan providing most of the profit – and with the French Government’s substantial stake in Renault thrown into the pot and the rehabilitation of Mitsubishi barely underway, it is hard to see another talismanic figure with the clout and reach of Ghosn being able to exercise such total control over such Byzantine corporate structures. It is therefore understandable that leading industry authorities are already starting to question the Alliance’s long-term survival.

 

Aston Martin confirms DBX SUV

Aston Martin has confirmed what we all already suspected, namely that the DBX codename for its forthcoming SUV will also be its model name. It has also published images of an apparently lightly disguised DBX being put through its paces on a Wales Rally GB gravel special stage.

The significance of the DBX to Aston Martin would be hard to overstate. When it is unveiled next year, it will be a decade since Aston Martin last launched an all-new model line (rather than replacing existing product) and it will sit on a brand-new platform unrelated to any from its technical partner and minority shareholder Daimler. The same platform will also provide the basis for both new models from Lagonda, due to relaunch as the world’s first zero-emissions luxury car brand with an SUV in 2021 and a saloon in 2022. In addition, while the 155-off electric Aston Martin Rapide E will be the first car to be produced at the almost completely new plant in St Athan, Glamorgan, next year, the DBX will be its first full-time mainstream production car.

The DBX is not just a significant car, however, but a vitally important one intended to transform Aston Martin’s business fortunes. Indeed, it is predicted to sell in quantities at least equal to all other Aston Martin models combined. To do that it will need not only to provide convincing opposition to the Bentley Bentayga, but also newcomers to the sector like the Lamborghini Urus (reviewed on page 129), Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Ferrari’s forthcoming SUV. Powertrain options are likely to include its own 5.2-litre V12, Daimler’s 4.0-litre V8 and, early next decade, a hybrid drive likely to lean on Daimler technology.

 

Rise in CO2 output

Those who continue to vilify diesel for its exhaust emissions might pause to ponder this. The recent collapse in demand for diesel has resulted in a dramatic rise in the UK’s tailpipe CO2 emissions, reversing a long-term falling trend and putting levels back to where they were in 2013.

Department of Transport data shows a rise in average from a low of 119.2g/km in August 2016 to 128.3g/km last September.

 

Porsche’s Ring record

As night follows day, so do Porsche and Lamborghini’s attempts to outdo each other at the Nürburgring. Lamborghini held the production car lap record with the Huracán in 2016, then Porsche took it away in 2017 with its 911 GT2 RS, to which Lamborghini replied with an Aventador and a lap of 6min 44.97sec. That should have been that because there is no new, faster Porsche in the pipeline.

Porsche, however, teamed up with Manthey Racing to create a road-legal GT2 RS with a standard powertrain, but specially set up for the ’Ring. The result: a lap of 6min 40.3sec from a production street machine wearing road legal tyres. How fast is that? Well, the last time the Nürburgring 1000Km was run it would have been quick enough to place the Porsche fifth on the grid, ahead of the works Lancia LC2 of Michele Alboreto and Riccardo Patrese and the Porsche 956 of John Fitzpatrick and David Hobbs. Yes, the track is not precisely the same now as then, but the GT2 RS didn’t have the benefit of prototype construction, ground-effect bodywork, enormous slicks or an 800kg weight limit…

 

Brisk new 3-Series

It’s not the new M3, but for now the new BMW M340i will be the next best thing. Featuring a 3.0-litre straight-six turbo similar to that already found in the M240i, it comes with automatic gears, four-wheel drive and a limited slip differential as standard. Deliveries will begin next year at a price tipped to be below £50,000.