PARIS -- For two decades Carlos Ghosn stood astride the global auto industry. His tenure atop Renault ended in humbler fashion, in a cramped prison cell on the outskirts of Tokyo.
The 64-year-old resigned as chairman and CEO of the French automaker late on Wednesday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Bloomberg TV in an interview on Thursday.
Later on Thursday, Ghosn was officially replaced as chairman by Michelin chief Jean-Dominique Senard, and as CEO by Thierry Bollore, who has been filling in on an interim basis. Those moves had been widely expected for the last few weeks.
It’s a turnabout few would have predicted before Nov. 19, when police swept aboard Ghosn’s private jet shortly after it touched down at Haneda airport. He’s been in custody ever since, accused of financial misdeeds at Nissan that include understating his income by tens of millions of dollars and transferring personal trading losses to the company. If convicted, he could face decades in jail. Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.
“It’s the kind of thing that happens when somebody stays in power for too long,” said Bernard Jullien, an independent auto industry consultant who has written extensively about Renault.
Before his arrest, Ghosn had come to epitomize an elite cadre of brash, jet-setting industrialists focused squarely on the bottom line. The irony of his resignation was that it was announced by Le Maire at Davos, a place where he was seen as the quintessential figure, someone on the A-list of the annual World Economic Summit in the Swiss ski resort.
Ghosn ruled an automotive empire that stretched around the globe, from Russia to the U.S. to Japan, and included not only Renault but also its alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors. The world’s largest automotive partnership sold 10.6 million vehicles in 2017, more than Volkswagen Group or Toyota.
Ghosn is widely credited with holding the unwieldy two-decade alliance together, even as other combinations -- such as DaimlerChrysler AG -- came and went. His arrest jolted the partnership, raising questions over whether it can survive his demise. For his successors, bridging the corporate and cultural gaps between the companies and navigating the political crosscurrents in France and Japan will be among their biggest challenges.