The CEO of Nissan-Renault has figured out what Trump's 'America First' doctrine means for the auto industry
Written by Malek

carlos ghosn


Ghosn — born in Lebanon, raised in Lebanon and Brazil, educated in France — became CEO of Renault-Nissan in 2001 and for a decade and a half has been responsible for this French-Japanese hybrid, which not incidentally sells a lot of cars and trucks in the US. At the Detroit auto show last month, Ghosn held a roundtable discussion with the media and spent a fair amount of time, in the days before Trump's inauguration, visibly grappling with the "America First" idea. 

 It isn't complicated.
"If there is free trade, it should be good for me," Ghosn said when asked to describe what American First means — with the "me" being the Trump's USA. He added that part two of his understanding of American First is that it prioritizes "American jobs."

Simple.  For the most part, Ghosn took a cautiously flexible attitude toward what Renault-Nissan might be up against if Trump's policies favor domestic US manufacturing.

For starters, Nissan builds cars in both Tennessee and Mississippi, but jobs in those reliable GOP states won't help Trump.  That's because Trump needs the hiring to happen in Michigan and Ohio, which are the states he sought out during the 2016 election and will need again to get re-elected in 2020.  So some new jobs might be better than others, and Ghosn might not gain much by pointing out that there were exactly zero car factories in Tennessee before Nissan landed in Smyrna back in 1983 (GM followed in the 1990s with its Spring Hill factory).

Playing by the rules

As for NAFTA, Ghosn threw up his hands slightly when asked about the trade agreement, relevant to Renault-Nissan as the automaker operated three plants in Mexico.

'The only rules in place were NAFTA," Ghosn said. "We played by the rules."

Since Trump took office, his relations with the Detroit Big Three have been far more visible than his dealings with any of the so-called foreign "transplant" automakers, many of whom like Nissan have been building and hiring in the US for decades, in the Republican stronghold that is the US South. 

Ghosn "take it as it goes" attitude is understandable, and by taking Trump at his word on America First, he might actually be a good position to work with the new administration.