Tokyo: Nissan Motor Co. will seek a review of the shareholding structure of its alliance with Renault SA, moving to create a more equitable partnership between the two carmakers just days after Carlos Ghosn’s shock arrest, according to a person familiar with the plans.
The review will cover the issue of voting rights, the person said, asking not to be identified as the information isn’t public. Renault has more influence in Nissan than the Japanese company has in its French partner, a point of tension throughout their two-decade-long relationship.
The plan signals Nissan is moving swiftly to gain a stronger position in the alliance, with Ghosn out of the picture. The French-Brazilian executive, who steered both Renault and Nissan for years and had worked toward a merger of the companies, was removed as Nissan’s chairman Thursday after his arrest in Japan for suspected financial offences.
The balance of power at Nissan is now tilted toward Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa, who has emerged as a driving force behind the investigation into Ghosn’s alleged wrongdoing. The French side, meanwhile, has appeared blindsided by the rapidly unfolding events. Saikawa, an opponent of a merger between the companies, may be seeking to improve the Japanese carmaker’s bargaining position in a partnership he says has for too long favoured the French side.
Renault owns 43 per cent of Nissan and has the right to vote on decisions by the board, while the Japanese carmaker holds 15 per cent of the French company but doesn’t have voting rights. That imbalance has existed since the alliance was formed in 1999 as a way to gain scale against global competitors. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. was added to the pact in 2016.
A Nissan spokesman didn’t answer a phone call and an email seeking comment on a public holiday in Japan.
According to Japanese corporate law, Renault’s voting rights could be cancelled if Nissan raises its shareholding to more than 25 per cent in the French carmaker. Under French rules, if Renault lowered its stake in Nissan below 40 per cent, then it will help the Japanese carmaker get voting rights in the French company.
Lately, the structure has become increasingly controversial in Japan due to Nissan’s strong financial performance. Although it’s generally outgrown Renault in sales and profits, the Japanese company has far less influence within the alliance.
Ghosn’s arrest has further laid bare resentments that have built as the Japanese and French sides alternated successes and struggles over the years. Nissan has long been unhappy about what it considers an outsize French role, and Saikawa made reference to that perceived imbalance at the late-night press conference he called on Monday to respond to Ghosn’s arrest.