New Micra arrives, while Ghosn stays gone
A year after Nissan’s big boss Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo on allegations of financial misconduct, Le Cost Killer continues to make world headlines. But locally for Nissan it’s business as usual with the launch of the new 84kW Micra.
In many ways, I have Nissan (and Carlos Ghosn) to thank for my motoring career. Flash back to 2009. I’m sitting at my desk in Sandton as the features editor of a popular women’s magazine. It’s 3pm on a Friday. I’m tired of trying to make bad copy good, dreaming of leaving my desk before rush hour Joburg consumes me.
I’m called into the editor’s office.
“How would you like to go somewhere far away and eat sushi for seven days?”
She knows I’m a sashimi addict, a nigiri guzzler, a maki queen. I’m totally unprepared for her next sentence.
“I’ve been invited by Nissan to attend the Tokyo Motor show next month, but I can’t make it, I thought you might like to go in my place.”
Held in the week of October 23, 2009 that trip to Japan changed my life. Pre 2009, I had never given cars much thought. You could say I was a late adapter, only getting my licence after I turned 30. It took me a year to overtake on a highway. During my addict 20s, I often cited a line from the Alex Cox cult movie Repo Man where the old homeless man says:
“The more you drive the less intelligent you are.” I opted to be a stoned passenger watching the world pass by.
Tokyo blew my mind.
An origami of contrasts, seamlessly blending the ancient with towering skyscrapers, pristine, orderly — breathtakingly beautiful. No one was more surprised than me by the way I fell in love with cars that week. The 2009 Tokyo show saw the introduction of the iconic all-electric Nissan Leaf. Lexus was there with the sexy LF-A, the Honda pre-production concept CR-Z was on show.
Surrounded by the world’s finest future motoring visions, I became a petrol head in seven days. I also got to meet the then head of the Renault Nissan alliance, Brazilian-Lebanese-French master businessman, Carlos Ghosn — sorta rhymes with “gone”.
He made a big impression on me. Just 1.7m in stature, intensely intelligent, with severe black eyebrows and a puffed out chest, his passion for cars, for business, for change was Ghosn-bump inducing. I walked away from our media round table with a copy of his book Shift. I devoured it on the flight back to South Africa, making notes in my newly-purchased-from-Tokyo Hello Kitty notebook.
His quote: “You don’t build your character by doing what everyone else is doing,” singlehandedly inspired me to use my savvy to penetrate the tightly knit boys club of the local motoring media.
A trailblazing maverick, Ghosn’s meteoric rise began in 1996 when Renault poached him from Michelin. Nicknamed “Le cost killer” he very quickly introduced radical restructuring to transform the French manufacturer. In 1999 an alliance between Renault and Nissan delivered the Japanese brand from near bankruptcy into a profitable operation, with Ghosn as the group’s new chief operating officer.
Nissan was $35-billion in debt at the time of the takeover. Ghosn’s approach was brutal — shutting down factories, slashing suppliers and retrenching 14% of Nissan’s workforce. He threw millions into design. Within six years, Nissan was Japan’s No 2 carmaker.
In 2016, Ghosn’s power-base expanded when Nissan welcomed Mitsubishi into the alliance. Ghosn was now the holder of four titles — chairman of Nissan, chairman of Mitsubishi, CEO of Renault and head of the Renault/Nissan Mitsubishi alliance. And therein perhaps lies Ghosn’s downfall. When he was arrested over allegations of financial misconduct in November 2018 at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, the Ghosn legend began to unravel. There was outrage regarding his annual paycheque — $6.5-million from Nissan, $8.5-million from Renault and about $2-million from Mitsubishi.
He is alleged to have hopped between a mansion in Lebanon and million-dollar apartments in France, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, all allegedly paid for by Nissan. There were frowns aplenty when he paid his Lebanese artist friend Nadim Karam $888,000 to create a statue, Wheels of Innovation, gracing the entrance of Nissan’s Yokohama headquarters.
But perhaps it was his ostentatious second wedding to new wife Carole held at Versailles in 2017 that enraged his detractors to shout:
“No more cake Carlos!”
After his arrest, he was taken into custody on charges of underreporting his income and using Nissan funds for personal gain. A day later, Renault announced an interim boss. Three days later he was fired by Nissan. Less than a week later, he was fired from Mitsubishi.
While corporate scandals are not uncommon in Japan, personal enrichment is heavily frowned upon. It appears that Ghosn flashed his wealth and became a victim of his own hubris, paying little respect to Japan’s cultural norms and regimented corporate structures. Japanese press, once enamoured with Ghosn, pounced. The conservative Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun described Ghosn as “greedy”.
“He certainly made enemies and was envied in the Japanese establishment because in a sense he breached the norms of CEO compensation,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, to the Shenzhen Daily.
“Ghosn also had a CEO lifestyle. The major Japanese bosses are more discreet.”
Ghosn spent 108 days in detention before being granted bail of $9-million in March 2019, only to be rearrested in April on new charges of financial misconduct. Clearly the Ghosn scandal has rocked Nissan, with a 30% drop in share price after his departure.
But here on the other side of the world, if you ask most people who Ghosn is, you might be met with a blank stare, whereas mention the word “Micra” and they’ll go “aah”. For Nissan SA it appears to be business as usual.
The new Nissan Micra
A few weeks ago there was a veritable buzz in downtown Jozi at the launch of the brand new 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbo-petrol Micra, with 84kW of power. (That’s a pretty sizable increase from the previous 0.9 litre model that offers 66kW.) It features an all-new DIG-T engine — which in plain speak means Direct Injection Gasoline — Turbo, facilitating a more spirited performance while keeping fuel consumption and carbon emissions in check.
There’s 180Nm torque (with 20Nm more available when engaging an over-boost feature) and frugal-at-the-tank figures of just 5l/100km.
The fifth-generation Micra was launched locally in June 2018, but it’s this new model with its increased oomph that I’ve been anticipating.
Developed by the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance in co-operation with Daimler AG (which includes Mercedes-Benz and Smart), the new Micra has been lowered by 10mm to give it a more agile stance while a standard sport suspension and an electrically assisted power steering wheel system have improved both drive and handling.
It comes in three new variants, featuring Acenta Plus, Tekna and the top-of-the-range Tekna Plus trim, which has heated leather seats, while the interior is kitted out in “Invigorating Red” and the exterior comes in “Enigma Black”.
Driving the streets of Jozi, the six-speed manual compact hatch definitely has a zesty feel, punchy in fact, especially in the mid to upper ranges. I did, however, have a gripe with the bottom of the rev range where the Micra felt somewhat underpowered, waiting for the turbo to kick in. Bear in mind we were testing the car about 1.6km above sea level, but at times, especially after mountainous speed bumps, I found myself having to rev pretty hard to get some decent take-off power. Once she was up and away, I got the feeling that I could get arrested.
There are a host of impressive standard features including LED headlamps, keyless entry, a nifty 360º parking camera, some premium leather upholstery and blind-spot monitoring to help when crossing lanes.
A stroke of marketing genius is the exclusive Bose Personal sound system which might put the Micra ahead of its VW Polo and Ford Fiesta competitors — at least in terms of sound. Nissan is clearly aiming to lure young buyers who’ll be impressed with Bose labelling on the headrests, which also house two special speakers, improving volume and clarity of sound. The infotainment system is user-friendly, replete with Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility.
Price-wise, the Micra plays in a similar league to the Polo and Fiesta, but whether the Micra can meaningfully lure brand-loyal customers away remains to be seen. On a bigger level, the Ghosn scandal coincides with reports that Nissan is on course to book its lowest operating profit in 11 years. Now out on $13.5-million bail and restricted to Tokyo, Ghosn has hired a team of publicists and 12 lawyers to defend his reputation and prove his innocence. The trial is set to start in early 2020.
I imagine he must sometimes muse on his words in Shift:
“When you start thinking about leaving, choose your moment carefully. Go out while you are still on top, not when you’re no longer in control of events.” DM
Micra 84 kW Turbo Acenta Plus R305,900.
Micra 84 kW Turbo Tekna R326,300.
Micra 84 kW Turbo Tekna Plus R336,900.