Renault chairman Senard says not time yet to discuss Nissan chairmanship: Report

Jean-Dominique Senard was appointed chairman of Renault three weeks ago, and is also expected to be named to Nissan's board.
Jean-Dominique Senard was appointed chairman of Renault three weeks ago, and is also expected to be named to Nissan's board.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, arriving in Japan for a meeting with Nissan Motor, said it was not yet time to discuss whether he would assume the chairmanship of the Japanese automaker, Jiji news agency reported on Thursday (Feb 14).

Senard, who is expected to meet Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa and reaffirm an alliance rocked by the arrest and ouster of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, also said he expected discussions to be amicable, according to the report.

Senard was appointed chairman of the French automaker three weeks ago, and is also expected to be named to Nissan's board, given Renault's 43 per cent stake in the Japanese firm. It remains unclear whether Senard will also become chairman of Nissan.

His visit will be the first by Renault's top brass since Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo in November over allegations of financial misconduct, sparking the downfall of one of the auto industry's most feted executives and heightening tensions between the two companies.

He is expected to visit Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama on Thursday and Friday to meet board members and management teams.

The visit is aimed as a friendly, introductory call, according to sources familiar with the matter. But there is an undercurrent of tension between the two sides, given smaller Renault's influence over Nissan - the Japanese automaker, in turn, holds a 15 per cent, non-voting stake in Renault.

Nissan has said one of the reasons Ghosn was able to carry out his alleged fiscal misconduct was a concentration of power in one executive.

 
 
 

Ghosn himself was the driving force in the alliance, which was sealed in 1999 when Nissan was rescued from near-bankruptcy and enlarged in 2016 to include Mitsubishi Motors.

Ghosn had been pushing for a deeper tie-up between Nissan and Renault, including possibly a full merger, despite reservations at Nissan.

"There are various topics to discuss, but my responsibility is to Nissan stakeholders, to employees and customers and shareholders other than Renault, and Mr Senard is in the same position," Nissan's Saikawa told reporters on Thursday. "The main thing is to talk about the future responsibly."

Senard's appointment in late January helped quell a leadership debate which erupted after Nissan dismissed Ghosn immediately after his arrest while Renault had initially stuck by the executive, and has opened a path for Renault and Nissan re-examine the operations and structure of their alliance.

Joining Renault from tyre maker Michelin, Senard is generally seen by Nissan as a welcome outsider who could provide more balance to the alliance, over which Nissan has said Ghosn held excessive control given his roles as chairman of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, along with being Renault CEO.

Senard's meeting with Saikawa would be the second since they first met face-to-face late last month.

Another person with direct knowledge of the matter said Senard would also meet executives at Mitsubishi Motors, in which Nissan holds a controlling stake.

Meanwhile, Ghosn, in custody at a detention centre in Tokyo for nearly three months, on Wednesday replaced his chief attorney with a legal team headed by one of Japan's most fiery lawyers in a move seen as taking on a more aggressive strategy in fighting his charges, which he denies.