PARIS -- France is ready to cut its stake in Renault to consolidate the automaker's partnership with Nissan, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.
Paris might consider reducing its stake if it led to a "more solid" alliance between the Japanese and French automakers, Le Maire said in an interview with French news agency AFP at the Group of 20 finance ministers meeting in Fukuoka, Japan.
"We can reduce the state's stake in Renault's capital. This is not a problem as long as, at the end of the process, we have a more solid auto sector and a more solid alliance between the two great car manufacturers Nissan and Renault," he told AFP.
France is not planning an imminent stake sale in Renault, according to a government official asked about Le Maire’s comments.
Le Maire also said that Renault should concentrate on forging closer links with Nissan before seeking other alliances.
Le Maire had earlier said the French government was open to tie-ups involving Renault as long as French industrial interests were protected, and would consider any Renault deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiiles that respected Renault's alliance with Nissan.
Fiat Chrysler on Thursday abruptly withdrew its offer to combine with Renault after the French automaker’s board -- on the brink of approving the deal -- postponed a decision for a second time. France had made a sudden request for deliberations to be postponed for talks with Nissan.
The French government had welcomed the merger plan, but overplayed its hand by pushing for a series of guarantees and concessions that eventually exhausted the patience of FCA, sources told Reuters.
France is Renault's biggest shareholder with a 15 percent stake and the most important voice on the board.
France would also be open to Renault reducing its 43 percent stake in Nissan to have better governance -- one that is more efficient, that takes faster decisions , Le Maire told the Nikkei Asian Review. He also signaled that Paris would not push a controversial merger of Nissan and Renault to cement the alliance. "If a merger is a problem for our Japanese partners we will not force it. We will find another solution," he told the paper.
Industry analysts would welcome the French state reducing its role in Renault.
Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst at Evercore ISI, said: "What minority shareholders want is very clear and simple: France to sell down their Renault stake, Renault to sell down their Nissan stake, rebalance the Alliance and take care of business."
Mark Urakawa, a portfolio manager at Taiwan Double Line, said: "The French government should have no ownership of Nissan. It’s time to cut loose of both the government and the Renault ownership."
In an interview in Le Figaro published on Thursday, Le Maire said the long-term goal of the French state isn’t to run companies. He said that "all options could be considered" regarding the French stake in the Japanese carmaker.
Le Maire's remarks in recent interviews seem to go a step further in trying to soothe a rocky relationship with Nissan following a year that saw the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, the larger-than-life boss of the alliance. Ghosn was arrested in Japan over misuse of corporate funds, which he denies.
Bloomberg contributed to this report