19 April 2019

Big ticket OEM court trials beckon whilst the grassroots of new priorities emerge

Whilst the Houses of Parliament and the fate of Brexit take a short Easter sojourn, it gives air space for other stories which may set future agendas. If anyone from AT&T's WarnerMedia is reading and wanting a Games of Thrones replacement, now in its final season, then read on.

A real schedule scorcher is the Carlos Ghosn allegations. Other than 29 days on bail since November Mr Ghosn has been imprisoned in a Japanese jail having unusually been re-arrested whilst on bail. Ghosn returns to court on 22nd April; his wife has fled Japan seeking intervention from President Macron. The former chairman of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors has denied any wrongdoing, blaming Nissan's top brass for orchestrating a 'very dirty game'. The latest allegation concerns Carlos Ghosn improperly charging Renault for a 3,000-euro ($3,400) scooter.

There has been much criticism of the Japenese criminal system being very heavy-handed. Compare the Japanese approach to the alleged fraud by one of the directors of cafe chain Valerie Patisserie in the UK.

Other cases including in the US show very harsh pre-trial practices are used against alleged fraudsters. Arguably, each country’s laws should be respected; alternatively, there should be an international standard for dealing with fraud cases.

Ghosn may be guilty of offences despite the clunky and heavy-handed Japanese legal system or it transpires that he is the victim of a terrible conspiracy to undermine his role. If the latter then the implications for Renault and Nissan would be very serious indeed and call into question the very ethics of board rooms.

When trial arrives it will be a gripping drama worthy of any John Grisham book. Whatever the final outcome, I just hope justice and fair play are the ultimate winners.

If one major court trial against a motor mandarin is not enough then fear not as there is the possibility that former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn could face trial in Germany next year on fraud charges relating to Dieselgate.

The Brunswick prosecutors' office in VW's home of Lower Saxony are considering criminal charges for fraud and competition law violations against Winterkorn and four other VW executives. The allegations are he failed to disclose the emission breaches to the responsible authorities in Europe and the U.S. once known in 2014. If a judge agrees to a trial it is likely to occur in 2020 at the earliest; the indictment has 300 files with about 75,000 pages. Winterkorn, 71, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty with the consequence of a claim for damages from Volkswagen.

The US prosecutors have filed charges against Winterton for conspiring to cover up the automaker's diesel-emissions cheating.

The auto industry faces momentous change so its senior executives will no doubt be watching the Winterton and Ghosn cases with trepidation thinking one aberration of judgment could mean loss of a job and liberty. Getting the ethical and environmental issues right on electric battery materials has never had such an imperative.

Meanwhile, we are guaranteed the likelihood of the courtrooms providing serious box office.

Whilst the board rooms seem a source of doom, rays of light in corporate values exist with climate change taken very seriously. The largest money manager in the UK, Legal & General Investment Management, manages £1 trillion of UK pension fund investments have flagged the world is facing a 'climate catastrophe' and world businesses must address it urgently or face the ultimate sanction for a public company, shareholders who refuse to back them any more.

The heads of two major central banks have written a vivid warning about the financial risks of climate change. Bank of England governor Mark Carney and France's François Villeroy de Galhau set out the dangers to the global economy in an open letter saying- 'If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist..'The letter was co-signed by the chair of the climate-focused Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS). The NGFS is a coalition of 34 central banks formed in 2017, with the Bank of England as a founding member.

The auto industry is at the vanguard of momentous change and let’s hope we are seeing the closing curtain on maligned and tarnished practices so OEM’s are seen in a fresh light.

Julian Wilkins

Postscript: I attended last weekend’s Goodwood’s Members Meeting in beautiful Sussex. An amazing selection of cars from all eras and the chance to see them close up in the paddock. The Standout for me was a Rover SD1 winning the Gerry Marshall Trophy. Despite being over 40 years old the David Bache design remains outstanding, and a great influencer such as the Tesla S and Audi A5. Fantastic! '

Publisher: Shaun Hunter

Global News Editor: Trisha Chowdhury

Legal Affairs Editor: Julian Wilkins

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