Dieter Zetsche and Carlos Ghosn believe they are no longer needed to ensure the long-term continuation of the industrial partnership between Daimler and the Renault-Nissan alliance.
The two CEOs dispelled speculation that the partnership could crumble once they are not around to instill a sense of unity in their teams.
Zetsche said the alliance was dependent on cooperation between the two executives and "our interference in our organizations" for its first two years but this is no longer the case.
"I think it’s becoming more and more self sustainable and I’m very, very confident that if ever one of us were to decide not to continue in his job, the cooperation would continue," he said.
Zetsche, 61, was speaking at a joint media briefing with Ghosn, 60, on the sidelines of the Paris auto show. The annual briefing has come to be known as the "Carlos and Dieter Show."
Ghosn said: "Individuals are important, at least in the beginning of the process. But then after this, if we do our job very well, companies and institutions and processes are established, and a mindset is created, which hopefully and reasonably should go way beyond individuals."
Originally starting in April 2010 as a collaboration between Smart and Renault to develop city cars together, ties between the two groups have since strengthened to include 12 different joint projects on everything from fuel cell cars to next-generation compacts for the Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti brands.
The comments come just as both carmakers are roll out their first jointly-developed vehicles. Built on a shared rear-wheel-drive architecture, the new Renault Twingo minicar went on sale in September while Daimler’s Smart ForTwo and ForFour models will start to arrive in showrooms in November.
Ghosn and Zetsche have known each other for over 20 years, first meeting in the United States when Ghosn was CEO of Michelin North America and Zetsche served as head of Daimler’s Freightliner truck unit.
"Dieter – a major Michelin client – accepted my invitation to be the keynote speaker at our company convention. Since then, we’ve developed a similar understanding of our industry that enables us to see eye to eye on many issues,” Ghosn said in June.
In Paris last week, Ghosn emphasized that it was very important to maintain a spirit of partnership whenever a proposed project doesn’t work out because one CEO decides it is not in his company's interest. "We pragmatically move to the next opportunity," he said.
As a result, fractures did not arise when the two ditched plans to cooperate on large premium sedans, a core segment and traditional strength of Mercedes where Infiniti is far weaker.
"We spoke in general about rear-wheel drive cars, but didn’t find a business case for it," Zetsche said, when asked about a feasibility study for jointly developing the next Mercedes S-class flagship sedan.
The two CEOs also said that their partnership was open to collaborating on a project with other carmakers such as Tesla, in which Daimler holds a small stake, so long as neither had any objections. They cited the example of fuel cell cars, where Nissan joined an existing cooperation between Daimler and Ford.
While both groups hold a small, symbolic equity interest in the other to cement the pact, Zetsche and Ghosn have repeatedly denied any interest in a full-blown merger. "This is not a marriage. We’re more like corporate ‘friends with benefits,’ and the benefits keep growing," Ghosn said with a smile.