The sudden downfall of Carlos Ghosn looks set to unleash a power struggle between Renault and Nissan over the alliance he oversaw for two decades.
While both sides say they are committed to the partnership, they are already prepping for a battle over control of the world's biggest car alliance, people familiar with their discussions said. And with the French and Japanese governments also keen to defend their own interests, it could devolve into one of the toughest corporate slugfests of recent times.
Ghosn's arrest in Japan for alleged financial misconduct opens the door for Nissan to try to rebalance the alliance, while Renault is bracing to resist any effort to undermine its position, said the people. At the outset, Renault was the stronger partner, but over the years circumstances have changed: Nissan now sells a third more cars annually and earns more profit.
"The crisis has just started for the alliance," said Kenneth Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings, an investment, private equity and commodity group. "All the problematic stuff is now going to come to the surface."
This story is based on discussions with more than half a dozen individuals close to the companies, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters. A representative from Renault declined to comment, while a Nissan official didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Nissan's board ousted Ghosn as chairman on Thursday, three days after his arrest, a stunning fall from grace for an executive widely credited with rescuing the carmaker from collapse in 1999. With Ghosn gone, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa is already plotting a review of the alliance to make it more equitable for the Japanese carmaker, people familiar with the plans said. Nissan has also long been irked by French government meddling in the alliance, one person said.
Renault will resist any sudden moves to reshape the relationship, other people familiar said. Possible scenarios include bringing in another partner such as Daimler to strengthen the European arm of the alliance, two people said, though no such plans are currently under discussion. Daimler and Renault-Nissan started working together eight years ago on small cars and delivery vans. The three-way cooperation is underpinned by a cross-shareholding of 3.1 percent.
France could also tap an executive with credibility on both sides, such as Toyota's Executive Vice President Didier Leroy, to act as an intermediary, one person said. The Frenchman and former Renault executive, 60, is a well-regarded business figure in Japan. Leroy declined to comment.