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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Paris open to reducing Renault stake in Nissan

In message to Tokyo, French side shows flexibility in return for Nissan chairman post

The French government, which has clashed in the past with Nissan Motor over the alliance with Renault, is trying a more conciliatory approach.   © Getty Images

TOKYO -- The French government has informed Tokyo that it is willing to consider reducing Renault's stake in Nissan Motor as part of a broader review of the capital relationship between the two automakers, Japanese government sources told Nikkei.

Paris, which owns a 15% stake in the French automaker, has told the Japanese side that it is open to alter the cross-shareholding structure to a more balanced one. Currently, Renault owns 43.4% of Nissan, while the Japanese automaker has only a 15% stake in its French partner. The French government also referred to decreasing its own interest in Renault as an "option for the future," the sources said.

This conciliatory gesture comes as the French government, Renault's largest shareholder, seeks to nominate new Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard as the next chairman of Nissan. The Japanese automaker is opposed to receiving another top leader from Renault, following the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn, now in detention in Japan over allegations of financial misconduct.

Paris seems to be showing flexibility in an effort to smooth the way for Senard's appointment to Nissan's top post and to keep the alliance together.

The French government previously told Tokyo it wants to integrate Renault and Nissan in the future. Nissan executives and the Japanese government worry that the Elysee will be more inclined to intervene in the alliance under the new Renault leadership team appointed in January.

However, both automakers have shown a willingness to compromise.

Nissan is expected to appoint Senard as a board member at an extraordinary shareholders meeting April 8. Filling the vacant chairman post and determining the composition of Nissan's board -- including the number of directors picked by Renault -- will be crucial points going forward.

The Japanese automaker plans to pursue governance reform based on advice from a special committee established last year for this purpose. The panel will submit proposals on topics including personnel matters by the end of March.

The Renault-Nissan alliance also includes Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors. Global sales for the alliance totaled 10.8 million vehicles in 2018.

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