BRUCE GAIN

Ghosn aims for No. 3 spot for Renault-Nissan

Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.
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PARIS -- After getting a new mandate as Renault CEO through to 2018, Carlos Ghosn has high ambitions for the automaker and its partner Nissan. He wants to catch industry leaders Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen.

Ghosn, 60, was reappointed as CEO at Renault's annual meeting by a majority of 85 percent. His mid- to long-term objective is to "install Renault-Nissan as one of the top three global automakers," Ghosn told shareholders at the meeting on April 30.

The alliance is No. 4, but has a long way to go to catch the leaders. Renault-Nissan sold 8.3 million units last year, compared with Toyota's 9.98 million, Volkswagen's 9.73 million and General Motors' 9.71 million.

Ghosn was seen by shareholders as the best candidate for the job he first took over in 2005 despite missing some of the goals of his current Drive the Change business plan.

Renault's global vehicles sales were 2.63 million last year, missing a target of 3 million. The launch of the battery powered Zoe subcompact hatchback, which was supposed to be an "everyman’s" electric car has stalled with sales almost four times less than originally forecast. Zoe production was 11,130 units in 2013, missing the company’s internal forecasts of more than 50,000 units, according to market analyst firm Inovev.

Ghosn admitted to shareholders that Zoe sales "were not as good as expected" but said Renault is still the No. 1 seller of EVs in Europe with a 37 percent share of the market for electric cars, rising to 42 percent if the scooter-styled Twizy is counted. The alliance has 60 percent of the global EV market, he said.

The loss of Carlos Tavares as COO, after Tavares moved to rival PSA/Peugeot-Citroen as CEO, was a setback for Ghosn, who also lost his previous No. 2, Patrick Pelata. Ghosn was criticized for his handling of a crisis within the automaker when some high-level executives were falsely accused of stealing company secrets. He survived but Pelata was forced to quit.

Renault did manage to meet its cash flow target of 2.5 billion euros during the past three years. This was a major performance metric, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Gaetan Toulemonde.

Ghosn pleased Renault’s shareholders by telling them he has kept intact the company’s industrial base in France. Renault has said it plans to boost its production in France by a third, or 180,000 units by 2016.

He also said that Renault hopes to see a significant jump in revenues to 50 billion euros by 2017 compared with 41 billion last year.

Ghosn is the cement that holds the Renault-Nissan alliance together as he continues to head both companies.

Renault remains heavily dependent on Nissan, which was the same size as Renault when the automakers entered their alliance in 1999, but now sells twice as many vehicles and is much more profitable. The Japanese company contributed 1.5 billion euros to Renault's earnings last year.

You can reach Bruce Gain at bgain@crain.com.

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