By Sarah White and Gilles Guillaume
PARIS (Reuters) – Renault (PA:) Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said on Thursday there was a “real desire” at the helm of the carmaker’s alliance with Nissan to make it a success, dismissing suggestions the two decade partnership might be on the rocks.
The Franco-Japanese alliance, long dogged by internal rivalries, was thrown into turmoil by the November 2018 arrest in Tokyo of its architect and long-time boss Carlos Ghosn on charges of financial crimes, which he denies.
Attempts to restore calm have recently been thwarted by Ghosn’s dramatic flight from Japanese justice and a series of no-holds-barred allegations he has made from his refuge in Lebanon, including that he was the victim of a plot to oust him and that the alliance is now a “masquerade”.
Nissan (T:) has vigorously denied any suggestion of a plot, while both the Japanese firm and Renault have rubbished suggestions their 20-year-old partnership is falling apart.
“We have a board overseeing the alliance which is made up of people who are all extremely in favor of the alliance,” Senard told a briefing with reporters, defending the changes he has made since joining Renault after Ghosn’s arrest.
“There is a common desire to associate our strategic plans and a real desire to make this alliance a success,” he added, describing reports that Nissan was working on scenarios for a possible future outside of the alliance as “fake news.”
The 66-year-old repeatedly declined to comment on anything related to Ghosn, adding: “I only think about the future.”
Senard, who used to run tyre maker Michelin (PA:), has become the de facto senior figure in the alliance, though without the commander-in-chief aura Ghosn had, which had helped hold the partnership together.
While that is partly deliberate – as both parties are keen to avoid another Ghosn-style strongman and created a four-member operating board to oversee the alliance for example – Senard will have to deliver on launching joint new projects.
Senard said the alliance’s board would meet by the end of January to decide on industrial initiatives, which are moving into focus as a management revamp moves toward completion.
A new CEO started at Nissan in December, and Renault is in the midst of seeking a new CEO after ousting Ghosn-ally Thierry Bollore in October.
Luca de Meo, who recently stepped down as the head of Volkswagen’s (DE:) Seat brand, is seen as the frontrunner, although a non-compete clause in his contract is proving a problem, sources close to the matter have told Reuters.
Interim CEO Clotilde Delbos is also in the frame.
Senard said Renault’s board would likely meet soon to discuss the appointment, but added there was no urgency as the interim arrangements were working well.
Analysts view Renault-Nissan’s cost-saving alliance as vital to both companies’ fortunes as the car industry battles a slowdown in demand and huge investments in cleaner vehicles and automated driving, particularly as rivals PSA (PA:) and Fiat Chrysler (MI:) are merging to help meet these challenges.
Renault held unsuccessful talks with Fiat Chrysler last year, causing some ructions within Nissan. Ghosn described the failure to secure a deal as a huge missed opportunity.
Senard, who chairs the alliance’s operating board, said that once the partnership had been stabilized, it could become attractive to other potential partners.
Asked whether the shareholding structure of the partnership could change, Senard said it was not necessarily set in stone, but was also not a major priority.
Renault, which counts the French state as one of its big investors, has 43% of Nissan, while the Japanese firm has 15% of the French carmaker, with no voting rights attached – a structure that has caused friction between the partners.