Business / Corporate

Nissan president pledges cooperation with new Renault chairman; Saikawa hints he may step down within months

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Nissan Motor Co. President Hiroto Saikawa said Friday he had spoken to Renault’s new chairman on the phone for the first time and that the pair pledged to work together in managing the auto alliance, while also indicating that he may step down from his own post at Nissan in coming months.

Renault picked Jean-Dominique Senard on Thursday to replace Carlos Ghosn, who has been detained in Japan for alleged financial misconduct, as chairman. Nissan ousted Ghosn, who has denied all accusations against him, as its chairman following his arrest in November.

Saikawa declined to comment on the details discussed in the phone call Thursday, but told reporters that as the alliance between the Japanese and French carmakers “will turn a new page, I would like to have sufficient communication” with the new Renault management.

He didn’t set a timetable for his departure, signaling that he intended first to bring the company back on track from the scandal and only saying that there were “many problems to solve” by June, when the Japanese company holds its annual meeting. Revising corporate governance at Nissan would be his highest priority, Saikawa told the news conference.

“I think I should pass the baton after getting the company back on track, and I don’t think I should spend too much time to reach that goal,” said Saikawa. “June isn’t the deadline and I will try to fulfill my responsibility as soon as possible, so that I can pass it on.”

Senard, who is also CEO of French tire company Michelin, told reporters following his appointment that one of his top priorities was bolstering the alliance, which includes Mitsubishi Motors Corp..

He said he will ensure that the link and framework between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi “remains strong, will be strengthened and will go forward very positively in the future.”

“I can tell you that I will bring all my energy to do so,” Senard said.

Renault promoted deputy CEO Thierry Bollore, who has overseen day-to-day operations since Ghosn was detained, to CEO.

The automakers’ alliance began in 1999, with Renault taking a major stake in Nissan to save it from bankruptcy. Mitsubishi Motors joined the group in 2016.

But Nissan is now more profitable than Renault, contributing about half of its French partner’s net income. Renault currently owns 43.4 percent of Nissan, which in turn holds a 15 percent stake in Renault. Nissan also owns 34 percent of Mitsubishi Motors.

The shift in the balance of power has been a source of friction, with some within Nissan wanting more independence, while the French government, Renault’s largest stakeholder, has pushed for a full merger.

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday that he is confident Renault’s new leadership will serve to strengthen the alliance.

“The first task of the new chairman of Renault will be to reinforce the alliance, because this is in the interest of both France and Japan,” the minister said.

The group of automakers, one of the world’s largest, has a “huge responsibility” to “gather our forces, to have more funding for innovation, for disruptive innovation, for electric cars, for autonomous cars,” Le Maire said in an interview with TV network France 24 in Davos, Switzerland.