PARIS - How did France's Renault SA end up talking about owning part of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. in the first place?
Cherchez le sport-utility.
It was Renault's chairman, Louis Schweitzer, who formally proposed an ownership deal to Nissan Motor Co. President Yoshikazu Hanawa last August.
But it was an underling, 54-year-old Executive Vice President Georges Douin, who got the ball rolling more than a year before that.
Douin, who is in charge of product planning and international operations, initiated discussions with Nissan to see if Nissan would consider building sport-utilities for Renault in emerging markets.
Nissan was expected to approve over the weekend a proposed $5.5 billion offer from Renault to take a 35 percent equity stake in the Japanese automaker.
Schweitzer and Hanawa are scheduled to meet together Tuesday, March 30, with reporters and Wall Street analysts in New York during press days before the New York auto show.
Nissan had been in similar talks with DaimlerChysler AG until this month, when DaimlerChrysler ended the negotiations. At that point, the Renault-Nissan talks moved forward rapidly.
Like most of Europe's automakers, Renault has been slow to tap into the world sport-utility craze. Though not as well endowed with sport-utilities as other automakers, Nissan has been developing new sport-utilities recently.
'Douin played a key part in the deal, especially in the early stages,' said a Renault insider involved in the talks.
'He has known Nissan people for 15 years. Schweitzer completely relies upon him for the appraisal of product strategy, engineering capabilities and technology issues,' the source said.
POISED TO BE NO. 2
As chairman, Schweitzer has provided the public face for Renault in pursuing Nissan. But he clearly entrusts two top executives with broad discretion in this move - Douin and Carlos Ghosn, Renault's 45-year-old manufacturing chief.
Ghosn, executive vice president for engineering, manufacturing and purchasing, would become Nissan's COO under the arrangement. Ghosn has been Schweitzer's unofficial No. 2 man since being hired in late 1996 after 16 years with French tire giant Michelin.
He will leave Renault's Boulogne Billancourt headquarters to settle in Tokyo.
Ghosn is the man behind the cost-cutting drive that helped Renault rebound from losses of $830 million in 1995. He did it by restructuring manufacturing and engineering operations and by closing Renault's plant in Vilvorde, Belgium.
TRAINED IN BRAZIL
Ghosn has faced big challenges before. In 1985, at age 31, he was appointed chairman of Michelin Brazil.
He learned in Brazil what it meant to react quickly: He had to raise wages virtually every week to keep up with the nation's bout with hyperinflation.
At age 35, he became chairman of Michelin North America Inc. His task there was to restructure the company's operations after its merger with Uniroyal Goodrich.
Ghosn will not go alone to Nissan. Forty to 50 Renault managers will join him in Tokyo.
Among them is expected to be an executive vice president in charge of finance and a managing director in charge of manufacturing operations.