Nissan Is Said to Resist Having Same Chairman as Partner Renault

The logos of car manufacturers Renault and Nissan in front of a common dealership of the companies in Saint-Avold, France, January 15, 2019. (Reuters pic)

TOKYO: Nissan Motor is unwilling to support an arrangement with its alliance partner Renault SA that would place the same person in the chairman’s role at both companies, as was the case under jailed former leader Carlos Ghosn, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Japanese company would resist appointing new Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard as its own chairman as well, said the person, who asked not to be named discussing private matters. Nissan’s board plans to await a governance committee report before taking a final decision, the person said.

It’s the strongest sign yet of the challenges facing the Franco-Japanese partnership as the sides try to forge a fresh path without Ghosn, who enforced a common vision over two decades through his stature and personality. Nissan is said to seek a review of the lopsided power structure, and its chief executive officer, Hiroto Saikawa, has criticised Ghosn for having too much authority and making decisions that weren’t in the best interest of the Japanese company.

“Discussions on this topic will take place after the special committee for improving governance submits its recommendations, and after Mr. Senard has officially joined Nissan’s board,” Nissan said in a statement, declining further comment. Renault didn’t respond to requests for comment.

While Senard’s first contacts with Saikawa went well, Nissan opposes having him in the top role because it fears a conflict of interest, the person said. Renault has a 43% voting stake in Nissan, which has no reciprocal rights with its 15% stake in its French partner.

The Japanese position is likely to be met with disappointment in Paris. While Renault has never officially said it wants Senard to become Nissan’s chairman, Japanese media has reported that French President Emmanuel Macron made the suggestion to his Japanese counterpart. Macron didn’t make that request, according an official with knowledge of the matter.

Ghosn was the chairman of both automakers, along with alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp., before his arrest on Nov 19 over alleged financial misdeeds. While Nissan sacked him soon after, the 64-year-old held onto his role at Renault until resigning last month. That paved the way for Senard, Michelin’s departing CEO, to be brought in with a mission of patching up the frayed alliance.

The French government owns a 15% stake in Renault and is its most powerful shareholder, which gives it influence into decisions that affect Nissan. A person familiar with the matter said the government’s position is that it was up to Nissan’s board to decide who will be its next chairman. Renault is entitled, per its bilateral agreements with Nissan, to name Nissan’s chairman, chief operating officer or CEO. Senard would be an obvious candidate for the chairman post.

Nissan said Tuesday it plans to appoint Senard to its board as a director after a shareholder vote on April 8. Ghosn and his long-time aide Greg Kelly will be removed at the same time. Ghosn, who has denied wrongdoing, remains in custody on allegations of understating his income at Nissan and transferring personal trading losses to the company.