Renault-Nissan alliance grows from strength to strength

Merged car companies, unlikely international alliances and shared platforms are the new black when it comes to making cars. There’s Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai Kia and Volkswagen – which owns a slew of other makers - to name just a few.

Many of these merged groups came out of the 2007-8 Global Financial Crisis which hit the American manufacturers particularly hard, with Chrysler, Ford and General Motors all being baled out by the government.

One motoring giant however, Renault-Nissan, emerged from an earlier crisis, when the French manufacturer Renault effectively rescued Nissan from near bankruptcy in 1999. Nissan was collapsing under a mountain of debt at the time, which Renault reduced by eventually purchasing 44.4 per cent of Nissan. Carlos Ghosn is the CEO of both companies as well as the Renault-Nissan alliance and the Chairman of Russia’s AvtoVAZ, which Renault also part owns.

The alliance turned Nissan’s fortunes around and Renault Nissan now produce one-in-10 of the world’s cars and is a leader in electric cars.

Renaults long history

Renault’s history reaches way back to 1899 when Louis Renault combined his engineering prowess with brothers Marcel and Fernand’s business acumen to produce their first car, The Renault Voiturette.

Mass production followed in 1905 with a fleet of Renault taxis and by 1908 Renault was France’s largest carmaker. Motor racing was an early Renault obsession. It proved a fatal attraction when Marcel was killed in the 1903 Paris-Madrid race. Brother Louis never raced again but a Renault won the first Grand Prix in 1906.

The First World War saw Renault branching into ammunition, tanks and military aircraft engines, while the company also exported car engines to America.

Renault branched out into agricultural equipment while expanding its range of cars in the inter-war years, with Britain becoming an important market for its products. It was an innovative carmaker, using aluminium as early as the 1930s, though not as innovative as its great rival, Citroen, whose sales passed it in the 1920s.

Both French makers were hit hard by the Great Depression, with Citroen being bought by Michelin, at which stage Renault had regained the lead in the sales race.

Renault’s history has sometimes been turbulent. During the Second World War the Allies bombed its factories and the post-war atmosphere was rife with suspicion, violence and retribution against suspected Nazi collaborators. The government requisitioned its factories and Louis Renault died in jail awaiting trial for collaboration, whereupon the government expropriated the company from him posthumously.

After the war Renault went from strength to strength with models such as the R4, R5, R10 and R16 while expanding globally into SE Asia, though it struggled to crack the American market. It was a leader in collaborative partnerships with other manufacturers, combining with Nash Motors Rambler and later AMC to produce Rambler Classics. It later purchased 47.5 per cent of AMC, which was hovering near bankruptcy at the time.

Renault established a firm Australian presence in the mid 1960s, producing cars from its Melbourne factory, but closed the plant in 1981.

It also collaborated with Volvo from 1990 to reduce expenses and development costs, though Volvo shareholders rejected a merger.

Nissan’s long history

Renault bought Nissan in 1999 at a time when manufacturers were consolidating all over the world.

Nissan also has a long history dating back to 1914 When the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works produced its first car. Kwaishinsha became DAT Motorcar Co, producing cars and trucks, including for the military in 1918. By 1926 it had merged with Jitsuyo Jidosha Co., Ltd. to produce light cars and trucks under the Lila name.

The first Datson (son of DAT) was produced in 1931, with the name changed to Datsun just two years later.

Datsun briefly became part of the giant Nissan Zaibatsu, with Nissan Motor Co Ltd emerging in 1934 before passing to Nihon Sangyo and Hitachi. Nissan struck immediate success building the highly successful Austin 7 under licence and selling them in Japan. The British collaboration continued, with Nissan producing the Austin A50 from 1953 to 1959.

Nissan’s engineers refined the Austin engines for their own cars, including the Datsun 510 and the classic Datsun 240Z in 1969 - the car that really made the world sit up and take notice of the Japanese manufacturer.

Nissan had already entered the world market by that stage, exporting to Australia and the US and by 1970 was one of the world’s largest car exporters. The 1973 oil crisis boosted demand for its cars and Nissan was soon setting up factories throughout the world, including Australia and New Zealand.

In Australia Nissan shared some unlikely collaborations with Ford under a government plan to rationalise the Australian vehicle industry, producing such curios as the Nissan/Falcon Ute twins and the Nissan Patrol/Ford Maverick.

The collaborations didn’t end there. Elsewhere Nissan was working with Volkswagen, Alfa Romeo, GM and Ford from the 1980s to the early 2000s. So with Nissan facing severe financial pressures in 1999, the Renault-Nissan alliance seems a natural fit in hindsight. It’s certainly worked, with Nissan enjoying record profits and even entering joint ventures in Russia with AvtoVAZ, the country’s biggest carmaker and China’s Dongfeng Motor Corporation.

Under the leadership of Carlos Ghosn Renault-Nissan is facing a bright future with its leadership in electric cars and a strong commitment to driverless car technology.

But then again in the ever-shifting world of global vehicle manufacturing you just never know quite what’s round the corner.

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