BRUCE GAIN

Will Renault and Nissan drift apart when Ghosn goes?

Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.
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The likelihood that Renault-Nissan will appoint a single executive to succeed Carlos Ghosn to run both automakers is remote. The question now is whether or not the alliance will unwind if the companies are headed by two different CEOs when Ghosn eventually leaves.

Ghosn, 59, has mostly given logistical reasons as to why he does not expect to appoint a single CEO to run Renault and Nissan. He has noted that a single person flying between Paris and Tokyo throughout the year to head both companies is a less-than-ideal way to run the alliance.

Ghosn told Automotive News Europe that he has headed both companies out of necessity, especially during the beginning stages of the alliance, but that such a structure is no longer necessary.

But the risk for the future is that Ghosn continues to serve as the "cement" of both companies that keeps the alliance together, which separate CEOs may not be able to replace, Gaetan Toulemonde, an analyst for Deutsche Bank, said.

"My perception is that there is only one guy who holds both companies together: Carlos Ghosn," Toulemonde said. "That could be dangerous."

The two companies are increasingly integrated but the top management is less integrated than it used to be, which makes Ghosn's role that much more important, Toulemonde said.

"If something happened to Ghosn, I don't know how solid this alliance is to compensate for the [void that he would leave behind]," Toulemonde said.

However, the fact that Renault and Nissan are more tightly aligned than they were before may also mean that the alliance is solid enough to accommodate separate CEOs, Ian Fletcher, a senior analyst for IHS Automotive, said.

"The relationship does not necessarily require a single figurehead as there is now," Fletcher said.

Ghosn was previously needed to serve as the alliance's single leader and architect, but the alliance has since evolved beyond its beginning stages, Fletcher said.

"He is not necessarily irreplaceable for either company," Fletcher said. "This is despite recent significant management changes at both companies, which have to a degree helped reinforce his current roles as head of each company."

We will eventually learn how much successfully running the alliance depends on Ghosn when the one leader to rule them both companies leaves. But since his contract will also most certainly be renewed in April, that day of reckoning is probably more than four years away. Many things could obviously change by then.

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

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