Nissan has stepped up contingency planning for a possible split from Renault, according to the Financial Times, which cited people familiar with the matter.
The plans include Nissan going it alone in engineering and manufacturing, as well as changes to Nissan's board, the paper reported on Sunday.
Nissan has accelerated the planning since its former Chairman Carlos Ghosn fled from Japan where he was on bail accused of financial crimes to his former childhood home of Lebanon, the paper reported.
Bloomberg also reported that Nissan executives have examined the possibility of breaking away from Renault amid concerns that relations with the longtime French partner have turned dysfunctional.
Since last year, Nissan has been exploring the pros and cons of sustaining the alliance, particularly when it comes to engineering and technology sharing, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Those studies predate Ghosn’s escape from Japan and were preliminary, so no decision has been made, the person said.
It’s unclear how feasible any separation would be given that Renault is Nissan’s biggest shareholder and the French partner has been pushing for a repair of ties.
Key to the partnership's survival is reviving plans this year for new joint industrial projects, which sources said have stalled as the scandal engulfed the companies.
The companies are trying to forge solutions to problems with their long-standing partnership, and launch new joint industrial projects, people familiar with the situation said. So far, those efforts haven't produced visible results.
"The problem is today, there's nothing concrete as we look ahead, no goals," a former senior employee at Renault said.
Some developments set in motion during the Ghosn era are due to come to fruition in 2020. Nissan's crossover electric car, based on its Ariya concept model, will be the first to launch on the two automakers' new joint electric platform, and in 2021 a Renault equivalent should also take shape.
Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique held doubts about the partnership enduring when he replaced Ghosn. In a French radio channel interview in November, Senard gave Renault and Nissan just months to amend the union. "If in 2020 we don't extract the whole virtuous potential of this alliance, I will consider that I and my teams have failed," he said.
Senard is due to announce several combined projects for the alliance in coming weeks. Nissan’s recently appointed CEO Makoto Uchida has been working closely with Senard on these new projects, Bloomberg said. But even during the Ghosn era, according to people close to Nissan, some engineers were not happy about Ghosn’s push to combine engineering and manufacturing.
Ghosn led Nissan back from the brink following its rescue by Renault in 1999 and held the alliance together as head of both companies. His shock arrest in Tokyo in November 2018 threw the automakers into disarray and brought infighting between Renault and Nissan into the open.
In a press conference in Beirut last week Ghosn said: "What we see today is a masquerade of an alliance that obviously with all the people involved is not going to go anywhere."
Nissan's partnership with Renault has now become toxic, with many senior Nissan executives now believing the French automaker is a drag on its Japanese counterpart, sources told the Financial Times. Both automakers would likely seek new partners in the event of a full split, the paper said.
Relations soured following Ghosn's arrest, but the roots behind the tensions go back years.
A major sticking point since 2015 has been the equal division of costs for r&d into new technology and products, two sources close to Nissan said.
That strategy "did not compensate Nissan's work properly: Nissan's engineering output was 40 percent better, meaning Nissan engineers on average produced 40 percent more than their Renault counterparts in a given amount of time spent on a job," said one of the sources.
"When measured more strictly, Nissan's output in some cases was double Renault's," he said.
Nissan has asked for an analysis of the workloads and productivity of Renault and Nissan staffs, one person familiar with the situation said.
Since Ghosn’s downfall, the two automakers have struggled financially — their shares were the two worst performers among major automakers last year — and drifted apart at a time when the costs of electrification and autonomous driving are pressuring incumbent automakers to team up or consolidate.
Nissan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, a holiday in Japan. Renault declined to comment.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report