Renault Chairman Senard to meet Nissan CEO in Japan visit

TOKYO (Reuters) – Renault SA Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is set to meet with Nissan Motor’s CEO Hiroto Saikawa after he arrives in Japan on Thursday, seeking to reaffirm an alliance rocked by the arrest and ouster of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.

FILE PHOTO: Jean-Dominique Senard, Michelin Group tyre maker Chief Executive Officer, attends a news conference to present the company’s 2018 annual results in Paris, France, February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

His visit will be the first by Renault’s top brass since Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo in November over allegations of financial misconduct, sparking the downfall of one of the auto industry’s most feted executives and heightening tensions between the two companies.

Senard was appointed chairman of the French automaker three weeks ago, and is also expected to be named to Nissan’s board, given Renault’s 43 percent stake in the Japanese firm. He is expected to visit Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama on Thursday and Friday to meet with board members and management teams.

The visit is aimed as a friendly, introductory call, according to sources familiar with the matter. But there is an undercurrent of tension between the two sides, given smaller Renault’s influence over Nissan – the Japanese automaker, in turn, holds a 15 percent, non-voting stake in Renault.

It remains unclear whether Senard will also become chairman of Nissan, a role previously held by Renault’s chairman. Nissan has said one of the reasons Ghosn was able to carry out his alleged fiscal misconduct was a concentration of power in one executive.

Ghosn himself was the driving force in the alliance, which was sealed in 1999 when Nissan was rescued from near-bankruptcy and enlarged in 2016 to include Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Ghosn had been pushing for a deeper tie-up between Nissan and Renault, including possibly a full merger, despite reservations at Nissan.

“There are various topics to discuss, but my responsibility is to Nissan stakeholders, to employees and customers and shareholders other than Renault, and Mr. Senard is in the same position,” Nissan’s Saikawa told reporters on Thursday.

“The main thing is to talk about the future responsibly.”

Senard’s appointment in late January helped quell a leadership debate which erupted after Nissan dismissed Ghosn immediately after his arrest while Renault had initially stuck by the executive, and has opened a path for Renault and Nissan re-examine the operations and structure of their alliance.

Joining Renault from tire maker Michelin, Senard is generally seen by Nissan as a welcome outsider who could provide more balance to the alliance, over which Nissan has said Ghosn held excessive control given his roles as chairman of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, along with being Renault CEO.

Senard’s meeting with Saikawa would be the second since they first met face-to-face late last month.

Another person with direct knowledge of the matter said Senard would also meet executives at Mitsubishi Motors, in which Nissan holds a controlling stake.

Meanwhile, Ghosn, in custody at a detention center in Tokyo for nearly three months, on Wednesday replaced his chief attorney with a legal team headed by one of Japan’s most fiery lawyers in a move seen as taking on a more aggressive strategy in fighting his charges, which he denies.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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