Auto executive turned international fugitive Carlos Ghosn says Covid makes industry ripe for consolidation

  • Carlos Ghosn believes the coronavirus pandemic will accelerate consolidation of the global automotive industry.
  • He's now writing a book about his time at the Japanese automaker, which he was credited with saving from the brink of ruin before it had him arrested on accusations of a variety of financial crimes last year.
  • Ghosn remains at large and protected in Lebanon where he has a passport and home with his wife.

High-flying automotive executive turned international fugitive Carlos Ghosn believes the coronavirus pandemic will accelerate consolidation of the global automotive industry, including his former employer Nissan Motor.

In a rare interview following his daring escape to Lebanon from Japan on Dec. 29, the former Nissan chairman said the industry will continue to struggle even after a vaccine is approved.

"Even if they find a vaccine immediately, is going take probably one year before things start to come back to normal. A lot of companies are going to be struggling. They're going to be suffering," he said in an interview on CNBC's "Closing Bell."

He's now writing a book about his time at the Japanese automaker, which he was credited with saving from the brink of ruin before the then-CEO had him arrested on accusations of a variety of financial crimes last year. While the U.S. has said Japan can extradite two Massachusetts men who helped Ghosn in his escape, the former executive remains at large and protected in Lebanon where he has a passport and home with his wife.

Ghosn said companies that lack vision will likely become takeover targets for those with better balance sheets or plans for the future, including electric vehicles. He believes Nissan as well as its alliance partners, Renault and Mitsubishi, could be companies that don't survive. Nissan and the alliance didn't immediately have a response to Ghosn's comments about the company after business hours at their headquarters overseas.

"I'm not very – optimistic – knowing what I know," he said. "And particularly – the excuses and the explanation they are giving for the difficulties – not only in Nissan, but also at Renault and Mitsubishi models."

Electric car maker Tesla was a leader, he said. Its shares are up nearly 400% so far this year – Ghosn said the market is rewarding CEO Elon Musk for "establishing a vision" and "giving incredible path towards competing in the rest of the industry."

"It it speaks a lot about where the market is betting the future will be. And I can't blame them," he said. "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 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."

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