Carlos Ghosn must be a very happy man indeed. The 61-year-old Brazilian-born boss of Renault-Nissan has done some pretty impressive things in his time and usually achieved his corporate goals in very short order.
Back in 1996, he was appointed by Renault to oversee a complete restructuring of the French automaker’s business and, by late 1997, the company was back in profit. Then, in 1999, while still maintaining his role at Renault, he took charge of the newly acquired Nissan which was then a financial basket case with $20bn of debt with just three profitable models in a 46-car line-up.
His Nissan Revival Plan promised a return to profit after just one year — or else he would resign. In 2000, Nissan turned a profit of $2.7bn after tax, compared with a loss of $6.46bn the previous year.
In 2002, he unveiled the Nissan 180 plan, which proposed to see the company increase production by one million vehicles (1), establish an operating margin of at least 8% (8), and reduce debt to zero (0) — hence ‘Nissan 180’.
By 2003, the debt was gone and operating profit was 11.1% and by 2005 production had hit 3.67m units, up from the 2.6m it had built in 2002. Ghosn had achieved what was widely agreed to have been impossible.
This guy has the Midas touch and today — as the man in charge of both companies — he is overseeing a level of growth which is frightening the crap out of many rivals. Some of last year’s figures from Renault-Nissan are very interesting. Group revenues rose — up 10.4% from 2014.
On top of that, automotive revenues hit a 10.9% increase. Operating profit was heading for the 45% mark and better still, automotive operating profit was up €638m — a staggering 74.4% — to €1,496m and the group says this performance is mainly attributable to volume growth (€480m) and cost reduction (€527m).
There are not, I can assure you, many automakers producing these types of figures right now and Mr Ghosn is the one who’s getting most of the credit — and rightly so. As the boss of what is now one of the top four manufacturers in the world, he has led his company in exemplary fashion through a period of savage recession and back to a phenomenal phase of growth and profit.
Aside from the work he has done with Nissan, where he was the man who signed off on the groundbreaking and massively successful Qashqai, latterly he has focussed on revitalising the entire Renault model range and the manner in which the French company has, just in the last few years, radically overhauled itself is an object lesson for many.
All of which brings me to the Renault Kadjar, a car the company tried to make before, but failed miserably with the unlamented Koleos, which was not so much a crossover as a cross-dresser.
You would have thought that producing a Renault version of the Qashqai would have been quite easy, given that the companies have so many shared technologies, but the French — being the French, presumably — made a balls of it.
The Kadjar, therefore, is their second stab at the family crossover segment and this time around they’ve certainly got it right, as not only is this thing truly good to look at — much more so than the Nissan, in my view —but it is also terribly practical, good to drive, and packed full of good technologies and neat design touches.
It is powered by the group’s new 1.6 litre turbodiesel engine, replacing the older 1.5 dCi unit. It outputs 130 bhp as against the older engine’s 110 and is, as you might expect, quite a deal more sprightly. Thus there is a 9.9 second 0-100 kph time on offer and the top speed is 190 kph, while it will also return an economy figure of 3.9l/100km (71 mpg) and emit just 103g/km.
It is a lively thing on the road, but if you start to press on a lot you will find the Kadjar developing lots of torque steer and quite a deal of understeer as well, which is a little unsettling.
Family drivers will not find this to be too much of a drawback, but if you’re the enthusiastic type behind the wheel it will bother you. The six-speed gearbox, incidentally is lovely to live with.
On the inside, the Renault engineers have managed to find even more space than is available in the Qashqai and they have decked it out beautifully too, giving it the air of a car more expensive than it is. Worth noting too is the slick dashboard design and the interesting and innovative graphics that the designers have used for the dials.
Spacious, comfortable, perky and economic are all watchwords which defined the success of the Qashqai and will now also define the Kadjar. Its sibling, but smaller, crossover, the Captur, was warmly welcomed in these column inches and the same now applies to its bigger brother.
And it is interesting to note too that the Kadjar is also priced cheaper than the Qashqai and so it may now be that the crossover class leader for so long might finally have something that can give it a run for its money.
That it is so well-specified even at entry level is a further potential boost to sales, although I was slightly mystified by the fact that a full-sized spare wheel is standard across the model line-up except on the top-level Signature Nav. version that we tried. Strange.
Anyway, while I’m not a terribly big fan of the whole faux 4x4 genre, this was one I found to be at the upper end of the field and one which will certainly keep the redoubtable Carlos Ghosn a very happy man as he heads his company into a new era of growth and prosperity.
There is little evidence that the Brazilian has lost his magic touch.
The Cost: From €24,990 — as tested €31,990.
The Engine: A new motor for the Kadjar and a very perky one it is too.
The Specification: Pretty comprehensive from base-line models.
The Overall Verdict: The punters will love this one, no doubt.
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