November 29, 2018 17:51 CET
The CEOs of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors will jointly lead their automaking alliance, splitting a role maintained by Carlos Ghosn for two decades.
The decision foils attempts by Renault to transfer Ghosn’s chairmanship of the alliance board to his French deputy Thierry Bollore.
The three chiefs are “completely aligned on direction,” Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa told reporters Thursday, following the first meeting of the alliance board since Ghosn was jailed over alleged financial improprieties and stripped of his job as chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi. Ghosn remains Renault chairman and CEO..
“It was an extremely good meeting,” Saikawa said. “We were able to confirm that the three of us would take the lead, which was excellent.
A key question has been who will lead the alliance after Ghosn’s arrest. Currently Renault has the right to appoint the chairman and CEO of the alliance, with Nissan picking the vice-chairman. Splitting the leadership defuses that question for now, and helps the companies move forward post-Ghosn without a major hitch.
The board didn’t discuss personnel appointments, just operations, Saikawa said.
Speaking separately to reporters, Mitsubishi Motors CEO Osamu Masuko said it was important to restore a sense of normalcy, and that alliance rules weren’t discussed. The gathering lasted less than an hour, he said. The top executives agreed to meet more often, for example on the sidelines of international auto shows, Masuko said.
No changes to structure
Changes to the alliance ownership structure were not discussed, Masuko said in Japan after joining the meeting by video link. Saikawa and Bollore also participated remotely.
The CEOs of the three companies earlier sent a message to employees aimed at dampening fears of divisions between France and Japan, and to minimize the impact of Ghosn’s departure.
“The alliance is not national, but global, and requires not a few individuals, but our entire team to deliver,” said the letter, signed by Saikawa, Masuko and Bollore, Renault’s deputy CEO. “We are confident that we can rely even more on the alliance, based on the solid foundations built by the dedication of all since 1999.”
Renault has been happy with the status quo, which it dominated under Ghosn thanks to its outsize stake in Nissan, and has been looking to make it permanent. The effort has been championed by its largest shareholder, the French state, stoking tension with Japan.
Nissan has been eager to equalize power at the alliance and assert Japanese control over one of the country’s most important companies, according to people familiar with the matter. That has led to fears on the French side that Ghosn’s arrest may have been orchestrated in what amounts to a coup, a charge Saikawa has denied.
Tokyo prosecutors will seek to extend Ghosn’s detention for another 10 days, Kyodo News reported, without saying where it got the information.
Despite the tensions, analysts have lauded the industrial logic of collaboration. It makes no sense to suddenly part ways, said Takaki Nakanishi, an analyst at Jefferies in Tokyo.
“Nissan Renault worked so hard to create this alliance in the past 20 years. It’s really hard to become zero overnight,” Nakanishi said. “They should sit down to regain trust and confidence and make a rational decision on what’s good for them.2
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report
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