Maintain Your Distance: Renault Sets Boundaries for the French Government

Renault finds itself reeling from pandemic-related shutdowns and industrial partnerships that proved more troublesome than helpful. Its alliance partner, Nissan, has been incredibly wary of any further integration with the French company — providing a major distraction within the alliance, even as the situation on the ground worsened. They’re now trying to reorganize the partnership while addressing the crippling financial situation they’ve both been confronted with.

Any talks of a merger (something Nissan clearly doesn’t want) have been suspended so the automakers can focus on reducing operating costs (layoffs, product reorganization, etc.). The duo also sought financial help to offset money lost back when we were all still collectively handling the pandemic in a super serious manner. While Nissan was interested in landing private loans, Renault hoped to get its aid via the French government. However, Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard made it clear that not all help will be welcomed, especially if it means nationalizing the company.

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French Government Warns Renault Against Job Cuts, Factory Closures

Last week, Renault reported its first significant loss in a decade (€141 million) and a 3.3-percent decline in annual sales for 2019. It now expects a flat 2020 and claims it needs to commit itself to a €2 billion restructuring program over the next three years. Alliance partner Nissan also anticipates a weak year, and is doubling down on its own restructuring efforts by showcasing an eagerness to do whatever it takes to restore profitability.

However, the French government wants Renault to slow down and think about things before it starts shuttering local factories. Owner of a 15-percent stake in the automaker, it doesn’t wish to see its investment doing anything embarrassing. As such, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned the company to be exceedingly careful with how it handles business in France, urging it to avoid any measures that might negatively impact domestic employment rates.

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French Fix: Renault Board Selects Next CEO

Renault has appointed the former boss of Volkswagen Group’s Seat brand, Luca de Meo, as its new chief executive. Eager to remove former CEO Thierry Bollore and further distance itself from any ties to Carlos Ghosn, the company has been without an official leader since October.

The automaker made an announcement Tuesday, saying that after a selection process led by the Governance and Compensation Committee, the Board of Directors under the chairmanship of Jean-Dominique Senard had settled on de Meo.

Clotilde Delbos, currently serving as interim CEO, will continue to assume her functions until Luca takes office at the beginning of July. Viewed as the most-likely successor since 2019, de Meo was simply waiting out the non-compete clause in his contract with VW. His official hiring still needs approval from Renault shareholders, with the next meeting taking place in April.

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No Mutiny Here, Says Renault-Nissan Alliance Chairman

Rumors that the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance could be in danger of breaking up are unfounded, said alliance chairman Jean-Dominique Senard on Thursday.

The chairman was responding to reports of a contingency plan in the works at Nissan, one aimed at guiding the Japanese automaker away from its French partner in a stable fashion in the event of a split.

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Nissan Working on Contingency Plan in Case Things Go South With Renault

Despite Nissan and Renault spending much of 2019 attempting to reassure the world that their 20-year relationship was soundly intact, fractures have been impossible to hide from the public. If you want an analogy, imagine a carton of milk being left to curdle near a radiator and someone attaching a post-it note that reads “fine for drinking.”

While legitimate efforts to fix the relationship have been made (parts sharing, more collaborative projects, management changes, etc.), a lot of it has been undercut by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance attempting to cleanse itself of the old guard — many of whom had ties to former alliance chair Carlos Ghosn. At the same time, Nissan has sought autonomy from the French automaker, enacting corporate reforms to give it a bit more independence. It also has a cogency plan ready in the event it has to break from Renault entirely; reportedly, Nissan’s been updating that strategy ever since Ghosn escaped Japanese custody last month.

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Renault Chairman Gives Himself One Year to Fix Alliance With Nissan

Now that the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance has its upper echelon sorted, the time has come to mend the partnership properly. With the new staffers healthily distanced from the old guard of the Ghosn era, Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is giving himself one year to fix things before considering the entire issue a “failure, on a personal level, and by our teams.”

Senard didn’t explain the benchmarks for success, and twelve months doesn’t allot much time to right a ship that’s been listing for several years. Rumors exist that Renault may even be looking to ditch Nissan for becoming too much of a burden. Meanwhile, the Japanese automaker’s former CEO, Hiroto Saikawa, estimated the company’s vast restructuring efforts would not significantly improve profitability for at least another year.

However, most of what we’ve heard from Nissan and Renault leadership includes a concerted effort to restore trust within the auto alliance and strengthen industrial ties. Contentious merger talks have also fallen by the wayside and are unlikely to crop up after Renault’s own profitability warning from earlier this month.

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Corporate Coup? Renault Officially Needs a New CEO

Renault’s board of directors met today to decide the fate of CEO Thierry Bolloré. Though we should say ex-CEO, because they fired him.

As the most recent executive to become subject to the management shakeup that’s bent on removing anyone within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance with ties to defamed founder Carlos Ghosn, Bolloré called the board’s decision surprising ( it wasn’t). Speaking with France’s Les Échos, he contended that he was more concerned with the wellbeing of Renault than corporate politics and expressed fears that the alliance could be falling apart as Japan aggressively seeks to remove more Ghosn-era hires.

“I appeal to the highest level of the State shareholder, guarantor of the rules of good governance, not to destabilize Renault, flagship of our French industry,” he said. “This coup is very disturbing, it is very important to understand the ins and outs of what is happening in Japan.”

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Renault CEO's Removal Could Come Soon

The French media is reporting that Renault CEO Thierry Bolloré could be removed as part of a greater initiative to clean house within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. As usual, the cornerstone of the controversy stems from the executive’s close ties to Carlos Ghosn.

That relationship makes him suspect, as numerous high-ranking employees at Nissan are currently under suspicion of having helped or benefited from the alleged financial misdeeds surrounding the ousted chairman. In fact, the Japanese automaker had to select a new CEO in short order after information emerged implicating former corporate head Hiroto Saikawa — encouraging his September resignation.

Now there’s a campaign in place to distance the automaker from Ghosn-era hires and legacy staffers with deep links to him. Everyone expects Renault to do the same.

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The Final Three: Renault Chairman Assesses Nissan's Candidates for CEO

The hunt for Nissan’s next chairman has been narrowed to three potential candidates. Their final challenge will be impressing Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. According to reports, Senard spent the better part of Tuesday interviewing Renault-Nissan veterans — via teleconference or face-to-face meetings in Paris.

Considering the laundry list of problems Nissan currently faces, it’s difficult to imagine why anybody would want the job. Maybe it’s the sizable paychecks or perhaps an eagerness to turn things around at the automaker. Either way, whoever Nissan ends up with will have at least as much as they can handle.

Let’s take a look at the candidates.

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Renault Chairman Still Carries a Torch for FCA Merger

While the proposed merger between Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was stymied after the French government refused to sign off on the deal without support from Renault’s Japanese partners, Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard has indicated he’s still keen on the idea.

Nissan’s reluctance to endorse the arrangement last June may have queered the deal, but things are evolving. The Japanese automaker has strived to reduce Renault’s influence in the automotive alliance, especially since the November arrest of Carlos Ghosn. Unfortunately for Nissan, ex-CEO Hiroto Saikawa was also caught up in the financial scandal — forcing him to resign. The Japanese automaker is now seeking a permanent replacement while CFO Yasuhiro Yamauchi runs things in the interim.

While it’s unlikely to make Japanese shareholders supportive of French involvement, it does provide an opportunity for Nissan to find a new chief executive who’s a bit more sympathetic to Renault’s desires.

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No Friends in the Renault-Nissan Alliance?

Former Renault-Nissan Alliance director Arnaud Deboeuf is leaving Renault to chase sunnier pursuits at French rival PSA. It’s no secret that the relationship between Nissan and Renault has become severely strained, however, Deboeuf’s departure throws more light on how personal issues are impacting the broader business. He effectively blamed Renault CEO Thierry Bolloré for his leaving the alliance.

“Thierry Bolloré told me no one wanted to work with me … and that I could not go to work at Nissan either,” Deboeuf explained in a final letter to his colleges.

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Nissan's Shareholder Meeting Sure Sucked for Renault's Chairman

Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard could have had a better time at Nissan’s shareholder meeting last week. New details of the event have come to us via Automotive News and they’re helping to showcase just how fractured the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance has become. While returning Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa focused on developing a succession plan for upper management, Senard attempted to appease an angry mob of Japanese shareholders who have absolutely had it with France.

As there was no exit poll for the event, we’ve no idea how many shareholders have it in for la République. But numerous accounts of the event described the situation as chaotic and angry with some international bad blood on full display.

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Renault Chairman Opens Up About FCA Merger Failure

It was downright amazing how fast the proposed merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance collapsed. Considering the auto group’s messy state, there may have been no alternative. While Nissan’s unwillingness to support the merger is often cited as a chief reason in FCA’s backing out, it seems the Italian-American company was similarly spooked by internal strife within the alliance.

Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard addressed the matter on Wednesday during the automaker’s annual meeting in Paris. He told shareholders that the French government’s inability to act was what ultimately led to Fiat Chrysler backing out of the deal, while openly lamenting the missed opportunity.

“This project remains, in my head, absolutely remarkable and exceptional,” Senard said. “Frankly, I am saddened.”

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Where Is the Renault-Nissan Alliance Headed?

The relationship between alliance partners Renault and Nissan remains incredibly strained. We’ve documented the souring of this corporate relationship closely since November, starting with the arrest of former Nissan chairman and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, but the partnership’s new chapter is a bit more confrontational. Of course, the relationship trouble started long before that.

Still in the midst of a corporate power struggle, Renault recently decided to block Nissan’s board reforms — possibly in response to the Japanese automaker not supporting a possible merger between the French automaker and Fiat Chrysler. Regardless, the Alliance now appears to be in real jeopardy, with neither side interested in cooperating. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa appears to be hip to this fact, claiming the two sides need to take steps to stabilize and reinforce the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance or risk it dissolving completely.

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More Drama: Renault to Block Nissan's Corporate Reform

Nissan and Renault’s strained relationship is well documented at this point. And yet the scribes keeping tabs on the matter must now dip their quills in fresh ink, as a new chapter is ready to be written. Following the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, industrial scandals, a subpar earnings report, and more headaches, Nissan intends to adjust its corporate structure while passing some internal reforms.

However, Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard recently issued a letter to the automaker saying the company would abstain from voting on the issue. As Nissan’s adoption of the reform requires two-thirds approval, Renault could easily block the plan with its sizable stake in the company. Nissan politely calls the automaker’s stance “most regrettable,” but execs in Yokohama must be seething.

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