CHRISTIAAN HETZNER

Carlos and Dieter show takes a break

Zetsche, left, and Ghosn will not have a joint press conference to discuss their alliance with reporters this year.
Christiaan Hetzner is Automotive News Europe's Germany correspondent.
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The "Carlos and Dieter Show" will not take place this year at the Frankfurt auto show, which could be a sign of trouble.

Hearing Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche update the progress of their strategic alliance has been a highlight of Europe's big autumn car show since 2011.

Whether the show took place in Paris or Frankfurt, you could count on Ghosn and Zetsche's news conference to be a highlight of the second press day because the CEOs would usually announce another big joint project.

That won't be the case this year. Officials blame the cancellation on Ghosn's schedule. He won't be in Frankfurt. However, his absence raises some eyebrows, even if the debut of Nissan-based Mercedes-Benz X-class pickup highlights the most recent result of the alliance.

An early sign that the relationship might have peaked came last year when the CEOs for the first time had nothing new to tout. When I asked them last year whether this was a sign they had taken the alliance as far as they could, Zetsche said: “If it stays at this number [13 joint projects], it's perfect. If there's more expansion, that's fine too.”

Ghosn explained why any new projects would require more time to put together. “It's normal when you start working together that the low-hanging fruit comes easily and very fast,” he said. “From now on, maybe the number of additional projects may take longer. Not because we are stretched too thin but just because of the law of physics.”

Fair enough. Not all ideas pan out and there's certainly no point in pursuing a new project just to maintain a facade.

Nevertheless, it was already hard not to question whether the momentum has been lost, possibly because of Ghosn's takeover of Mitsubishi, which was part of Daimler's empire more than a decade ago, but only caused Stuttgart execs major headaches.

The Mitsubishi deal may have changed Ghosn's priorities, diminishing Daimler's role in his long-term plans. 

That's how it appears now that the CEOs no longer have time any more for their annual ritual.

You can reach Christiaan Hetzner at christiaan.hetzner@gmail.com.

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