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Covid-19 will lead to auto industry consolidation, says former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn

"The direction is clear" for autonomous and electric cars, the former auto executive — and famous fugitive — said.
Image: Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn addresses a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan where he is accused of financial misconduct, at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut
Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn addresses a crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan where he is accused of financial misconduct, at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut on Jan. 8, 2020.Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images file

Carlos Ghosn, former Nissan Chairman and CEO — and possibly the world's most famous corporate fugitive — has weighed in on the impact of the coronavirus on the auto industry.

"It will accelerate auto industry consolidation," Ghosn said in an interview with CNBC that aired on Tuesday afternoon. "A lot of companies are going to be suffering, and the ones with no vision will be acquired by the stronger car companies."

He also commented on the "clear" direction of the mobility sector, saying electric and autonomous cars are the way forward and that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has done a "great job boosting his company" to a stock market valuation that far outpaces that of Nissan or Renault, Ghosn noted.

For his part, the former auto executive has been busy since his daring escape last year from house arrest in Japan, where he faced a broad array of allegations of financial crimes.

Along with writing a book, he has begun serving as a guest lecturer at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, part of a new program he has launched that aims to shore up the devastated economy of Lebanon, his ancestral home and the place where he resides as a fugitive from the Japanese justice system.

Ghosn was once viewed as a hero in Japan, in 1999 leading a $5 billion bailout of Nissan by France’s Renault. He even became the star of a popular Japanese comic book.

Things fell apart in November 2018 when authorities arrested both Ghosn and top lieutenant Greg Kelly shortly after their corporate jet landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The Nissan boss was initially charged with concealing millions of dollars of income but was subsequently hit with a broad range of additional allegations of corruption. Ghosn spent much of the first half of 2019 in the Tokyo Detention Center, eventually allowed out on bail before his daring escape.

He has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, insisting that he was set up by those who wanted to drive him from power and minimize Renault’s control over Nissan. He added further details in his book, which blames the “coup" on a cabal of “Old Nissan” insiders, including board member Masakazu Toyoda, as well as Ghosn’s successor as CEO, Hiroto Saikawa.

Ghosn's Former aide Greg Kelly is still fighting for his own freedom. The American expat won early bail due to health problems, but has remained under close watch in Japan where he went on trial in September. Kelly faces a single charge, helping Ghosn cover up some of his income.

According to the Japanese news outlet Nikkei, the case “was never intended by the prosecutors to be the main show.” But, after Ghosn’s embarrassing escape, the publication said in an Oct. 12 report, they are now treating it as a “must-win.”

Half the world away, an American former Green Beret and his son continue to battle to prevent their extradition to Japan, where they have been accused of helping mastermind Ghosn’s December 2019 escape. In September, a federal judge ruled that Michael L. Taylor and son Peter M. Taylor can be extradited. That move was stayed just two weeks ago by another federal judge, though the battle appears to be far from over.

Other alleged participants in Lebanon and Turkey also have been arrested and could face jail time even as Ghosn himself remains free, albeit only within the borders of Lebanon.