• The Associated Press

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Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA have approved opening talks with U.S. auto giant General Motors Corp. on a possible alliance, according to the Japanese and French automakers.

Nissan’s board of directors met Monday and decided the company “should proceed with exploratory discussions concerning a potential alliance with General Motors,” the firm said in a statement.

The talks will be conditional on GM endorsing a proposal by its major shareholder, billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp., that GM join the alliance between Nissan and its partner, Renault, the statement said.

Later Monday in Paris, the Renault board also approved opening talks with General Motors over a possible new alliance with Nissan — if the U.S. company wants the discussions, Renault said.

“The board of directors approved the position proposed by Carlos Ghosn: Exploratory discussions with General Motors concerning a potential alliance could start if General Motors Corp. makes the proposal,” the brief Renault statement says. Ghosn is the CEO of both Renault and Nissan.

Local media reports have said Renault and Nissan could buy up to 20 percent of outstanding shares in GM. Details of the possible investment plan surfaced after major GM shareholder Kerkorian proposed Friday that the troubled U.S. carmaker join the Nissan-Renault alliance.

Ghosn has discussed the matter with Kerkorian and is willing to talk to GM, according to Nissan and Renault.

GM has been engaged in an extensive turnaround plan in North America amid declining profits, high labor costs and growing competition from Asian automakers. The automaker announced plans last year to close 12 plants by 2008 and said 35,000 hourly workers had agreed to retire early or accept a buyout offer.

The deal would create a huge auto alliance with annual output exceeding 15 million vehicles and commanding nearly one-quarter of the global market share.

A three-way alliance could also mean the departure of GM’s chief executive, G. Richard Wagoner Jr., and leave Ghosn overseeing the three companies. Ghosn is hailed for pulling back Nissan from the brink of collapse in 1999.

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