© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi chiefs hold a news conference in Yokohama

By Naomi Tajitsu

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Renault (PA:) and Nissan (T:) can improve their alliance without altering ownership, the chairman of the Franco-Japanese partnership said on Thursday, rolling back from a previous push toward a full-blown merger that had rankled Nissan.

The comments from Jean-Dominique Senard highlight the difficulties facing the automakers and junior partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp (T:) as they struggle to repair a relationship badly strained after the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn in 2018.

Ghosn, who fled Japan to his childhood home of Lebanon at the end of last year, has been charged with financial misconduct, which he denies. The companies are trying to improve cooperation to rebuild profits that have slumped in the wake of Ghosn’s dramatic ouster.

“We all share a sense of urgency,” Senard told reporters in Yokohama, after he and the heads of the three automakers met. He said there was “no other option” but to change, but added reforms could be made without a shift in the capital structure.

Renault SA, which is part-owned by the French state, has 43% of Nissan Motor Co, while the Japanese firm has 15% of the French carmaker, with no voting rights – a structure that has caused friction in Japan, given Nissan is the larger of the two.

Renault has previously indicated a desire toward a full merger, something Ghosn is said to have championed.

Nissan Chief Executive Makoto Uchida told reporters that in order to leverage their respective strengths, Nissan would take the lead in China, Renault in Europe and Mitsubishi in southeast Asia.

Uchida said the three companies would announce revised mid-term plans by May.

Reuters reported this week that Japan’s second-biggest carmaker was set to eliminate at least 4,300 white-collar jobs and shut two manufacturing sites as part of broader plans to add at least 480 billion yen ($4.4 billion) to its bottom line by 2023.

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