Car Time – September 2023


The Rise and Fall of Carlos Ghosn

    Carlos Ghosn was one of the most successful CEOs in the automotive industry. In 2018 the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance chairman was arrested in Japan, charged with several financial crimes and faced at least ten years in prison. He made headlines the following year when he smuggled himself from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport to Turkey, “reportedly bundled in a Yamaha instrument case,” during the holiday season. His backstory, up to this point, is an interesting one.
    After an 18-year stint at Michelin, he was hired in 1996 to help pull Renault, the French auto manufacturer, out of financial troubles. Ghosn was infamous for his hard work and cost-cutting measures, including staff, and was nicknamed “Le Cost Killer.” Renault underwent a financial turnaround and looked at purchasing a major stake in Nissan, which was in debt by at least $22 billion and continued to fall behind Toyota and Honda.
    In 1999, Renault purchased a large stake in Nissan and Ghosn was in charge of turning the company around. A Brazilian-born, Lebanese-Frenchman with experience at Renault, he understood the challenges of culture clashes between the two companies and kept their entities and identities separate.
    The immediate plan was to cut Nissan’s staff by 14%, following a rejuvenation of their vehicle lineup, including the revival of the 350Z and Nissan GT-R sports cars. The GT-R was highly anticipated since its predecessors were nicknamed Godzilla for their technical dominance on the street and track. The U.S. market was finally able to import the GT-R to sell. Nissan and its luxury counterpart, Infiniti, saw a huge increase in profit and pulled themselves out of near bankruptcy. Ghosn, an outsider CEO to the Japanese, was treated like royalty for being the force who saved the homegrown brand.
    Ghosn was named the CEO of Renault in 2005, a complication as he was also the CEO of Nissan. Not wanting to end his reign of power with Nissan, he attempted to carry both roles.
    Eventually Ghosn named a replacement CEO at Nissan, but kept a level of control over things. This was the start of a downward spiral that would see him face allegations of using company finances for his personal expenses. His appearance and work ethics started to change. All of this motivated the CEO of Nissan and other executives to orchestrate his arrest. Released on bail, Ghosn planned his 2019 escape from Japan in fear of not receiving a fair trial. He currently resides in Lebanon, where he is safe from his international arrest warrants.
    The documentary series, Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn, began Aug. 25 on Apple TV.

Xavier Estrada can be reached at

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