France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said there is no plan to remodel the alliance between Renault and Nissan, even as the Nikkei newspaper reported that Paris wants to integrate the automakers in a structure that would probably create a single holding company.
A delegation including Martin Vial, a Renault director designated by the French government, visited Japanese officials in Tokyo to discuss the plans, Nikkei reported, without saying where it got the information. Renault also wants to appoint Nissan’s next chairman following the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, the newspaper said.
Ghosn was reportedly planning a merger between the two automakers before his arrest, Nikkei said.
However Le Maire, downplayed any Renault-Nissan merger in a newspaper interview. "No shareholding re-balancing or modification of cross shareholdings between Renault and Nissan are on the table," Le Maire told Journal du Dimanche.
France wants “solid and stable” governance at the helm of Renault, he said.
According to people close to the delegation, the discussions focused on ways and ideas to cement the Renault-Nissan alliance, with the creation of a holding company being one of the options. The people emphasized that no proposal was made during the meeting and it’s too early to discuss concrete plans, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.
While Nissan wants to maintain the partnership, it will likely resist any push toward a full merger of the two automakers, another person familiar with the matter said.
Another source familiar with Nissan's thinking said the reported French proposal did not "make sense" given the two companies' different cultures, Renault's lower productivity and Nissan's bigger contribution of key technology.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said on Monday that he had not heard directly about a proposal to integrate the Japanese automaker's management with Renault. It was not the time to discuss revising the partners' capital ties, he said. Asked about future capital ties, Saikawa said: "We are not at the stage for such discussions."
A Renault spokesman declined to comment.
Two months after Ghosn's arrest, Nissan is weighing abolishing the chairman role as it steps up reforms to rebuild governance. The scandal has also strained the company’s partnership with Renault, a union held together by Ghosn for two decades.
Tension has been rising between Nissan and Renault over their respective powers within each other’s boardrooms. Through complicated cross shareholdings, Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan, which in turn owns 15 percent of the French automaker. Last month, Renault said it planned to name a new director to the board of Nissan and safeguard power within their alliance.
The French government is Renault's largest shareholder with a 15 percent stake and two board seats. The government has requested Renault hold a board meeting in coming days to replace Ghosn from the roles of chairman and CEO at Renault.
Le Maire said Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard could be a good choice to head Renault. "The French state, as shareholder, will have its say. What I can tell you, is that Jean-Dominique Senard has a renowned competence with regards to the automobile industry," Le Maire told Journal du Dimanche.
Ghosn is accused of financial crimes that could put him behind bars for decades. The exceutive has been indicted for understating his income at Nissan by tens of millions of dollars and transferring personal trading losses to the automaker. Nissan claims Ghosn misused company funds, including for homes from Brazil to Lebanon, and hired his sister on an advisory contract.
Reuters contributed to this report