PARIS -- The departure of Renault's number two executive, Patrick Pelata, over a spying-turned-fraud debacle heaps pressure on CEO Carlos Ghosn at a crucial moment in the carmaker's latest strategic initiative.
Pelata resigned as chief operating officer on Monday, taking the flak for an embarrassing fiasco in which Renault fired three employees suspected of leaking information on electric vehicles who turned out to have done nothing wrong.
Pelata's departure as COO safeguards Ghosn's high profile role as head of both Renault and Nissan. But the void left by the exit of a trusted lieutenant cranks up the pressure on Ghosn, a dynamic figure who has been feted for his dramatic turnaround of Nissan but who is struggling to impress Renault investors.
The management turnabout also highlights the scale of state involvement in decision-making at Renault, whose biggest shareholder is the French government with a 15 percent stake, and raises doubts about how it is run.
The French carmaker's long-awaited new six-year strategic plan, revealed in February, disappointed investors who were hoping for concrete steps to revamp the financial structure of the 12-year alliance and squeeze more value from it.
The implementation of the plan -- which prioritizes international growth in a bid to boost profitability -- will be key if Ghosn wants to win kudos from shareholders.
Renault is also taking a big gamble as it readies the launch of the first of the electric cars it hopes will make it a mass-market leader in the burgeoning technology later this year.
Ghosn will now face those challenges without his key ally. And while Pelata will not leave his current role immediately and will stay with the Renault-Nissan alliance, it is not obvious who will fill the void he leaves when he does step dowfrom running Renault's day-to-day affairs.
"The Ghosn-Pelata double-act has worked well until now ... so it could be difficult to quickly find a replacement, which is a real problem," CM-CIC analysts wrote in a research note.