TOKYO — Alliance partners Nissan and Renault are fine-tuning their strategy of carving up the world into spheres of influence, but Asia is a new bone of contention as Renault returns to China.
Under a deal the partners announced last year, the French automaker quit passenger-car sales in China and handed the market over to its Japanese partner Nissan.
But now, a year and half later, Renault seems to regret retreating from the world's biggest market.
Last week, Renault said it plans to make another run at China, this time with Geely Holding Group, China's biggest domestic player, instead of Nissan.
The proposed Renault-Geely joint venture will build and sell hybrids in China and, importantly, also will explore using Renault's assembly plant in South Korea to produce hybrids for Geely's Lynk & CO brand.
Still unclear is what this plan means for Renault's three-way alliance with Nissan and junior partner Mitsubishi Motors.
People close to Nissan management said Nissan still needs deeper discussions with Renault about the ramifications and possible benefits.
A Geely tie-up would help Renault tackle several problems, including both its lack of access to the China market and unused capacity at its struggling South Korean operation. But to some, the move also raises questions about Renault's intentions toward its 21-year alliance with Nissan, which has frayed since the 2018 arrest and ouster of former alliance Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
"This looks like the beginning of an exit strategy," said one former high-level Renault executive, speculating about a rebalancing of the alliance.