Jailed man regrets role in helping Ghosn flee

While Carlos Ghosn sits free as a fugitive in Lebanon, two men who helped him escape house arrest in Japan are sitting in jail.

“There is only one positive in this, which is that I helped save a man’s life,” Michael Taylor, an inmate in Dedham, Mass., told The Wall Street Journal for a story published last week. “I wish I was never involved.”

Taylor and his son Peter helped sneak Ghosn, the former Nissan and Renault chairman, out of his home in Japan inside a musical instrument case. The Taylors were arrested in May and are now fighting extradition to Japan. They haven’t disputed helping Ghosn but argue that their assistance didn’t break any Japanese law.

Michael Taylor, a security specialist who was in the U.S. Army Special Forces, got a call from a former client who asked him to help Ghosn flee Japan, and prosecutors say he and his son received wire transfers totaling $1.3 million for their help. Ghosn was slated to go on trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges that he has denied.

Peter Taylor first met with Ghosn in July 2019 at Cicada, a Mediterranean restaurant in Tokyo that a website describes as “a great escape.”

Bill Ford named Automotive News’ Industry Leader of the Year

DETROIT — Over the course of a few frantic days in mid-March, as the coronavirus was spreading across the U.S., the Detroit 3 and UAW made the bold decision to collectively shutter North American manufacturing operations.

The wholesale shutdown was unprecedented. So too was the way it happened: three rivals, with icy relationships even in the best of circumstances, hopping on conference calls to make a collective decision against a dire threat.

That those talks went smoothly, or even happened at all, can be credited to Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., and it’s among the reasons he was selected as Automotive News‘ 2020 Industry Leader of the Year.

Ford is the scion of Michigan’s most famous automotive family; his Rolodex runs deep. He’s forged relationships with government leaders and industry officials throughout his four decades working for the company. By his own estimation, he’s lived through six major crises.

“You just realize you’re never dealing with perfect information, so the more communication you have, the better,” the 63-year-old Ford said in an interview last month. “Everybody had questions and nobody had answers. I felt in that environment it was important we come to some common understanding so that particularly the UAW wasn’t hearing one thing from Ford, one thing from GM and one thing from Fiat Chrysler. I felt I was in a good position to help.”

Ford grabbed his phone and placed individual calls to General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chairman John Elkann and UAW President Rory Gamble. He also had discussions with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Eventually, all parties agreed to a conference call.

“When you’re trying to pull three companies together, you have to be careful what you even talk about because you can step on land mines without realizing it,” Ford said. “But I’ve been through that so many times I felt I was pretty well prepared to help lead those discussions. GM and FCA weren’t exactly on the same page on a lot of items. And so, I felt I was kind of Switzerland and could help pull it together.”

Helping coordinate the Detroit 3’s coronavirus response might be Ford’s greatest accomplishment in a turbulent year that’s seen him appoint a new CEO, launch a slew of key products, break from the Trump administration over regulatory policy and oversee the automaker’s implementation of a global effort to manufacture medical equipment to fight the virus.

After shutting plants and sending salaried employees home indefinitely, Ford remained engaged, hosting weekly town halls over video from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The virtual gatherings quickly morphed into a way for workers to get to know their executive chairman in a new way. Many ended with casual Q&A sessions in which employees would ask about books or other trinkets in the background. Ford and other top executives have continued to host the town halls on a regular basis as employees continue to work remotely.

“I love doing that, although I don’t love the circumstances that spawned that,” Ford said. “I get so energized when I’m with our people. To me, the weekly town halls were a highlight during a really tough period.”

Another highlight? Witnessing employees step up to manufacture masks, gowns, ventilators and respirators as part of a pivot to personal protective equipment known internally as “Project Apollo.”

Ford personally toured the plants making the medical equipment.

“I remember one person saying to me he had always regretted he hadn’t served in the military and this was his opportunity to give back,” he said.

“There was another lady whose mom was a Rosie the Riveter and this was her way to give back. Another lady was telling me her daughter was a front-line nurse and she felt by doing this she was just basically trying to keep up with her daughter in terms of doing her part. It was really heartwarming.”

The company’s work culminated in a May visit from President Donald Trump to its Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich. While most of the headlines centered around whether the president would wear a mask — he briefly donned one during a private tour before taking it off during the public portion — Ford said it was a proud moment he’ll remember fondly.

“One thing I reminded all our employees about on that day — look, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s an honor to have the president of the United States come thank you for everything you’ve done for the country,” he said. “I felt really great about Ford that day.”

The president may have hailed the automaker as a “national treasure” that day, but his relationship with Ford behind the scenes wasn’t as complimentary.

Ford, along with other automakers, in 2019 broke with the Trump administration in standing with California for stricter emissions regulations. Trump and Ford have spoken a number of times in the past, but the president’s visit served as a chance to voice his displeasure in person.

“He wasn’t very happy,” Ford said of Trump. “Yes, he did [mention it]. I explained to him that it’s the right business decision and that frankly, if we have to engineer things twice — Product A for certain states, Product B for the rest of the states — it’s not a great position to be in. We want to do it once, we want to do it well and if we do it the way we’re proposing, it will satisfy all 50 states. He disagrees, and that’s fine.”

Ford says the decision makes business sense, especially as it ramps up its electric vehicle offerings. He also felt it was the right decision ethically, despite the political implications.

“I’ve always believed we should be looking long term,” he said. “I feel like I’m working for my children and grandchildren. Because of that, you have to ask yourself, what kind of world are they going to come into and inherit?”

MAKOTO UCHIDA: Nissan recovery plan hinges on U.S. market

YOKOHAMA, Japan — CEO Makoto Uchida has led Nissan Motor Co. for barely a year. But what a year it has been.

When he took the helm on Dec. 1, 2019, Nissan was still reeling from the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn. Ties with alliance partner Renault were strained, and Nissan was wallowing in red ink. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, plunging Nissan even deeper into crisis.

In May, Uchida unveiled a revised midterm plan he called Nissan Next that aims to restore profitability next year and put the Japanese carmaker on the road to recovery by the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024. Japan’s No. 2 automaker wants to cut ¥300 billion ($2.88 billion) in fixed costs by then and reduce global production capacity from 7.2 million to 5.4 million vehicles.

Another top priority is restoring profitability in the key North American market, rolling back destructive U.S. incentive levels and fleet sales and improving relations with dealers there.

Speaking at Nissan’s global headquarters here on Oct. 26, Uchida talked with Asia Editor Hans Greimel about Nissan’s recovery from the pandemic, his plans for rebuilding the company’s U.S. business and the state of relations with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: How is Nissan dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: Firstly, we are prioritizing the safety of dealers and other partners such as suppliers. The situation is still uncertain. We don’t know what comes next when it comes to the U.S. and other regions. Although China seems to be in a recovery phase, we need to be very careful. When I introduced Nissan Next, we said the industry may fall around 21 percent, year on year. If you look at the past three months, I think the number is much better.

How is the pandemic affecting Nissan’s outlook?

In the first quarter, we talked about a full-year outlook, and we announced a ¥470 billion ($4.51 billion) negative [operating loss]. Many say that that was too conservative. Nissan Next was about how we can restructure ourselves in the next three years and put ourselves on the growth path. So we had the world premiere of the Ariya on July 15. Hand raisers with an intention to buy the model are over 69,000 people. After that, we showed the Z prototype in September. We could show our value to customers through a sports car DNA. The message was that Nissan will still move forward with our strengths. Now we have to demonstrate it.

How is Nissan Next proceeding?

We are on track with Nissan Next. Our quality of sales is gradually improving, and also the fixed cost is in line with what we have said. The foundation is our DNA and culture.

But there is also the alliance — how we can best utilize the existing assets of the alliance for each company’s growth. This year, the COVID situation is very tough. But next year, we want to make sure that we are going into profit. We have to do what we committed to do under Nissan Next. In the U.S. over the next 20 months, we will introduce 10 models, including minor changes. And by the end of 2021, we will have six new models. We must ensure that new-model launches are successful.

How much progress has Nissan made in reducing global production capacity to 5.4 million vehicles?

That’s also on track. Capacity has to be flexible, in accordance with the market. We are fixing the level of production quarterly to what is appropriate, to make sure we don’t overproduce. That’s very important because of the COVID situation. There are huge ups and downs in terms of the volume needs of the market. We need to make sure we can flexibly meet those needs.

How is Nissan’s realignment toward quality of sales?

We want to ensure our presence in the market the right way. That means we don’t want to push the volume. We want to make sure that retail sales are in line with what we have said. For fleet sales, we need to have a good strategy. We need to make sure our rental numbers are not as [high] as they have been in past years. Inventories are coming back to healthy levels.

How does Nissan quantify whether it’s achieving quality of sales?

First of all, do we have enough dealer engagement? In the NADA survey, we are improving. Of course, it’s not enough, but it’s going in the right direction. We really would like to ensure that dealer engagement will be solid. That comes first, because our dealers are the ones selling our brand. That is where, operationally, we are putting a lot of effort.

Then after that, we need very good product in our lineup. Without having those steps, this is not going to happen.

We have detailed, daily discussions with dealers, trying to understand their concerns and how we can make sure those can be rectified. And that result is making the numbers better. Therefore, I think we have started moving forward in terms of the relationship with our partners. These partners are the ones on the front lines to represent our models and represent the brand itself.

We would like to respect what the dealers are doing, and we want to grow together with the dealers. And we want to make sure that our relationship is going to be, day by day, getting better.

We had a bad tendency before of aggressive wholesale [volumes]. So this is something that we totally changed in the way of operation. In a way, it looks very conservative. But this is something that we don’t want to trigger in the future, especially under the COVID situation.

How does the U.S. figure into executing the Nissan Next plan?

If we cannot ensure that the U.S. operations recover, we will not be able to pursue what we set out in Nissan Next. That’s where we really need to rectify ourselves in terms of operations and reestablish our brand image. We want to respect what the dealer is doing and grow together. The U.S. is one of the most important markets for us, and without the success of the U.S., we will not be able to pursue what we have said in Nissan Next.

How are relations with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi? Things seem quiet lately.

It looks quiet. It sounds quiet. Maybe that’s good. We have a monthly meeting with the partners, and of course we are in touch on a lot of discussions. Nothing has slowed down, and nothing is stagnant. Each company has to concentrate on its own performance while we make sure the existing assets can be utilized.

There are a lot of assets that we have built up over the last 21 years. And these are the main discussions we are having monthly with our partners.

Even though relations have stabilized, have the alliance partners just put off the inevitable, which is finally talking seriously about an adjustment of the cross-shareholdings?

Every month we are talking, but we never talk about a merger. Getting each company’s performance at the right level is the first priority.

What are your personal thoughts on a merger? Are you for, against or no opinion?

I would say “no opinion.” The only thing we are thinking about today is how to make sure we ourselves are at the right level. Have we had a merger before in the past 21 years? No. And I don’t think our partner is thinking about a merger at all. How we maximize the synergy is the first thing we really need to think about, and how I can make sure to give the right level of dividend back to the shareholders.

How can Nissan better leverage the partnership with Mitsubishi?

There are quite deep discussions with Mitsubishi, and we want to look further into synergies in terms of ASEAN, or even in Japan, with kei-cars (minicars). Moving forward, what will be the best synergy we can establish between Mitsubishi and Nissan is under discussion.

Is there opportunity to cooperate with Mitsubishi in North America?

If there is something we can support in the region, it is always under the discussion of the alliance. Right now, we are not discussing much. We say it this way — for a Mitsubishi plan, they need to build their own strategy in the U.S. If they think they want support from Nissan, then of course we can support. So each brand has to build its own strategy. That comes first.

Luca de Meo joined Renault as its CEO in the summer, and Mitsubishi CEO Takao Kato is a relatively new leader as well. How do you get along with them?

What’s most important is how closely we can communicate with each other and have transparency in our operations and respect each other. That’s the only way we can get the trust in the end. It is the same spirit of the past 21 years. A foundation of the mindset and spirit are there. Although Luca and I just met last July, it seems like I’ve been talking with him more than a year, and it’s also the same with Kato-san at Mitsubishi.

The 2021 RAM 1500 TRX Will Put A Smile On Your Face – Unless, Of Course, You’re Driving A Raptor

FCA’s decision to stuff the Hellcat engine under the bonnet of so many and different models is pretty awesome. Sure, no one needs a truck with 700 HP but yet, here we are, so we might as well enjoy the moment.

The new Ram 1500 TRX is arguably one of the craziest pickup trucks to ever hit the market, featuring the Hellcat 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that puts out 702 HP and 650 lb-ft (880 Nm) of torque.

Watch Also: Ram 1500 TRX Leaves Ford F-150 Raptor For Dead In A Straight Line

That makes the new 1500 TRX capable of sprinting to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 4.5 seconds and to 100 mph (160 km/h) in 10.5 seconds. The quarter-mile is dealt with in 12.9 seconds at 108 mph (174 km/h), while the top speed is 118 mph (190 km/h).

Doug DeMuro goes through all the details of Ram’s super-truck and he can’t stop smiling at its absurdity.

FCA loves leaving easter eggs on its models, and on the 1500 TRX there are plenty poking fun at the Ford F-150 Raptor, reminding you that the T-Rex is the true king of performance trucks.

Other differences compared to lesser 1500 versions include a wider body by 8 inches in order to accommodate the huge 35-inch tires that are mounted on beadlock wheels. Upfront there’s a new independent suspension and at the rear, you’ll find a Dana 60 solid axle with a 3.55 ratio with full-floating hubs and an axle-hop damper.

The 2.5-inch adaptive Bilstein shocks all around are designed exclusively for the 1500 TRX and the wheel travel is greater than 13 inches on all four corners, over 40 percent more than the rest of the 1500 models.

McLaren Artura, BMW X7, Ford designer’s own GT: This Week’s Top Photos

McLaren Artura, BMW X7, Ford designer’s own GT: This Week’s Top Photos

McLaren this week confirmed that its next supercar will be called an Artura. Prototypes are currently testing and the debut is set for the first half of 2021.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2020 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

If you can’t quite afford a supercar like the Artura, you don’t have to miss out on all the fun as Chevrolet’s C8 Corvette delivers up a similar experience for much less money. This week we took the car’s convertible body style for a spin.

2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo

2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo

Another vehicle we tested was the new Mazda 2.5 Turbo. Despite the turbocharger, this is no Mazdaspeed 3. Rather, it’s a powerful, mature, compact car that is well-mannered and moves like a premium offering.

2023 BMW X7 spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

2023 BMW X7 spy shots – Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

The BMW X7 will be updated to match the radical new look pegged for the next-generation 7-Series. Spy shots of a prototype reveal a completely new front-end design for the full-size SUV.

2022 Audi Q4 E-Tron spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

2022 Audi Q4 E-Tron spy shots – Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Another vehicle we spied was a new compact SUV with battery-electric power from Audi to be called a Q4 Sportback E-Tron. It’s the coupe-like version of the upcoming Audi Q4 E-Tron SUV, and both are due on sale next year.

2017 Ford GT owned by Moray Callum (photo by Canepa)

2017 Ford GT owned by Moray Callum (photo by Canepa)

The personal Ford GT owned by the man who oversaw the design of the car, Moray Callum, Ford’s vice president of design and brother to fellow automotive designer Ian Callum, is up for sale. It’s listed for sale at Canepa at an undisclosed price.

Bugatti Chiron Sport “Les Légendes du Ciel”

Bugatti Chiron Sport “Les Légendes du Ciel”

Remember the Legend editions of the Veyron built to honor key people from Bugatti’s past? Well, the French marque returned this week with a new Legend edition of the Chiron honoring Bugatti racing drivers from early last century who also pushed the limits in the skies.

Ducati Diavel 1260 Lamborghini

Ducati Diavel 1260 Lamborghini

Lamborghini and Ducati have collaborated for the first time. Their first endeavor together is a Ducati Diavel 1260 motorcycle inspired by the Lamborghini Sian supercar.