Renault’s new chairman, Nissan show unity, put off sensitive issues

Renault SA's new chairman, Jean-Dominique Senard, speaks to the media upon his arrival at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Feb. 14, 2019.

TOKYO, Kyodo - Nissan Motor Co., Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. showcased on Thursday their amicable ties while sidestepping sensitive topics as Renault’s new chairman visited Japan following the arrest of Carlos Ghosn and his departure from their alliance.

Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is visiting Japan for the first time since being appointed to the post last month, with eyes on the tug-of-war for influence over the auto group and who would be appointed as the next chairman of Nissan -- a post that remains vacant following the arrest of Ghosn in November.

"We reconfirmed that we will make the alliance stronger and successful at any cost," Osamu Masuko, CEO of the alliance’s third partner Mitsubishi, told reporters after the talks with Senard and Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa in Tokyo.

But Nissan’s next chairman was apparently not discussed during the meeting.

Upon arrival at Haneda airport earlier in the day, Senard said the post of Nissan chairman is "not the topic" in his talks with Saikawa.

"I will first talk with everybody and we will see how it will evolve in serenity with mutual respect for each other’s culture," the CEO of French tire giant Michelin said.

Saikawa said he will hold talks with the Renault chairman, who is set to be appointed to Nissan’s board at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting on April 8, again on Friday.

Renault, Nissan’s top shareholder, and the French government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, are apparently seeking to retain influence over the alliance by having Senard also assume the chairmanship of the Japanese automaker.

Nissan intends to narrow down candidates and decide on an appointment based on proposals to be submitted by its committee on corporate governance by the end of next month.

Saikawa, also president of Nissan, said Wednesday he wants to review the previous governance structure of the alliance, where power was concentrated on one person, and hopes to find common ground with Senard on the issue.

Ghosn served as chairman at Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors, while leading the French automaker as CEO. He had also led Renault-Nissan BV, a joint venture in Amsterdam that oversees the alliance.

Despite the departure of Ghosn, who played a pivotal role in building the tripartite alliance, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors have committed to the partnership, which has now become the world’s second-largest auto group.

But some Nissan executives also feel that the current cross-shareholdings structure of the alliance is unfair. Renault holds a 43.4 percent stake in Nissan with voting rights but the Japanese firm holds only a 15 percent stake in the French company without voting rights.

Nissan sold 5.65 million vehicles worldwide last year, 1.5 times more than Renault, and contributes about half of the French partner’s net profit.

Ghosn has been charged with understating his remuneration for years in Nissan’s securities reports and transferring derivatives losses from his private asset management company to the Japanese company.

Renault and Nissan have also launched a joint investigation into possible financial malpractice by Ghosn at their joint venture in Amsterdam. A source close to the matter said the probe is expected to conclude in mid-March. (Kyodo)