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Intensifying Nissan, Renault tug-of-war expected over rebuilding 3-company alliance

Former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn is pictured in this May 12, 2014 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO/PARIS/LONDON -- A tug-of-war is expected to intensify between Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA over rebuilding their three-company alliance including Mitsubishi Motors Corp., after Carlos Ghosn's departure as chairman and CEO of the French automaker.

The struggle is also likely involve the Japanese and French governments, as Paris is a major stakeholder in Renault. The French government has notified the Japanese government that the former wants Renault and Nissan to integrate their management, according to those familiar with the matter. In contrast, Tokyo has distanced itself from what it considers a private company matter.

Jean-Dominique Senard, who has been chosen as the new Renault chairman, expressed his determination to strengthen the three-company alliance.

Nissan President Hiroto Saikawa welcomed the French carmaker's leadership reshuffle. "It's a major step forward for us. We welcome the move as a first step on a new path," he told a news conference. Saikawa also said Nissan will appoint Senard to the Japanese auto giant's board.

Nissan dismissed Ghosn as chairman immediately after he was arrested in November 2018 on suspicion of under-reporting his remuneration, while Renault had retained the charismatic executive citing what the company saw as insufficient proof for the allegations. Though Ghosn is now gone from both firms, there is still a wide gap between Nissan and Renault over the structure of their capital ties and which company should take the initiative in the three-firm alliance.

Nissan has reacted sharply to the French government's push to integrate the management of Nissan and Renault, and is poised to demand that the French automobile giant review capital ties between them the Japanese firm calls "unequal."

Senard, who has worked mainly in the financial divisions of major French oil and gas firms and once served as CEO of major tire maker Michelin, is believed to be close to French President Emmanuel Macron. France's Economy and Finance Minister Bruno le Maire said Senard will be a good chairman.

In a Jan. 24 statement, Renault announced that Senard will represent the French carmaker in its talks with Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors.

Macron had pressed for Renault and Nissan to merge their management during his time as minister of economy, industry and digital affairs under the previous administration of President Francois Hollande.

Senard has underscored the importance of the three company alliance, saying that no one can imagine splitting it up. Still, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Renault will take advantage of the French government's support to go on the offensive and increase its influence over Nissan. One French auto industry analyst told the Mainichi Shimbun that Ghosn valued balance between Nissan and Renault and had resisted pressure from Paris, and predicted the Japanese automaker would be forced onto the defensive in his absence.

Nissan President Saikawa denied that the company will move to management integration with Renault, saying that "now isn't the time to discuss the structure" of the three-company alliance.

He then emphasized that the most important task for Nissan and Renault is to maximize the effects of the three company alliance while respecting each member's independence. Under the circumstances, it is expected to take some time to rebuild relations between Nissan and Renault after Ghosn's departure.

(Japanese original by Naoya Matsumoto, Business News Department, Isamu Gaari, Paris Bureau, and Kohei Misawa, Europe General Bureau)

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