After Ghosn, Nissan and Renault retool alliance as ‘equals’

Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves at his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka's office in Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Japan’s Nissan Motor and France’s Renault on Tuesday retooled the board structure of the world’s largest car-making alliance, putting themselves as equals after the ouster of former boss Carlos Ghosn.

They said the chairman of Renault would serve as the chairman of the alliance but – in a critical sign of the rebalancing – not as chairman of Nissan. It was not immediately clear who would take that job, vacant since Ghosn was arrested in November.

The ouster of Ghosn, one of the world’s most celebrated executives for his rescue of Nissan from near-bankruptcy in 1999, had caused much soul-searching about the future of the alliance. Nissan has said the executive wielded far too much power, creating a lack of oversight and corporate governance.

“This is an equal partnership,” Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told a news conference.

But the companies, including junior partner Mitsubishi Motors said there would be no change to their cross-shareholding agreements. The so-called “RAMA” alliance agreement that has bound them together so far remains intact.

Separately, a Tokyo court on Monday rejected Ghosn’s request to attend Nissan’s board meeting, denying a seat at the table to the executive who drove the alliance with Renault for two decades.

Released on a $9 million bail last week after spending more than 100 days in a Tokyo detention centre, Ghosn faces charges of under-reporting his salary at Nissan by about $82 million over nearly a decade – charges he has called “meritless”.

In the wake of the scandal, Renault has started its own review of payments to Ghosn. French prosecutors have opened a preliminary inquiry into how he financed his 2016 wedding at the Chateau de Versailles, French media have reported.

His dramatic arrest in November and the detention exposed tensions between Nissan and its top shareholder Renault, and appeared to muddy the outlook for the future of the alliance – the world’s largest maker of automobiles, excluding heavy trucks.

Some at Nissan had been unhappy with Ghosn’s push for a deeper tie-up with Renault, which was seen as possibly including a full merger. Smaller Renault bought 43 percent of Nissan ahead of the 1999 rescue.

Nissan holds a 15 percent, non-voting stake in Renault, whose top shareholder is the French government.

(Reporting by Sam Nussey and Maki Shiraki; Additional reporting by William Mallard and Ritsuko Ando; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing)

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