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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Renault and Nissan agree to 'rule by committee'

Along with Mitsubishi, alliance leaders will share all information

From left, Mitsubishi Motors CEO Osamu Masuko, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa and Renault interim chief Thierry Bollore. The alliance leaders held talks for the first time Thursday since the arrest of Carlos Ghosn.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- The leaders of automakers Renault, Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors agreed on Thursday to drop their system of de facto one-man rule in favor of a "rule by committee" style of decision-making, Nikkei has learned.

Renault interim chief Thierry Bollore, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa and Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko agreed to "remain fully committed to the alliance," according to a short joint statement issued after their first trilateral summit since last week's arrest of former alliance head Carlos Ghosn.

Sources say the companies agreed to share all alliance-related information among the three leaders going forward. After consultation, only issues that have been agreed upon will be implemented by the respective companies.

How they resolve issues when not in agreement has yet to be determined.

Previously, Ghosn held sole decision-making authority over the alliance as chairman of all three automakers. The triple alliance has been consolidating its production and development functions, and Ghosn had established a structure under which directors of each segment reported directly to him.

Though management by committee would be more democratic, it risks slowing the alliance's ability to make quick decisions, which was one of Ghosn's strengths.

With Nissan locked in a tug of war with Renault over appointing a new chairman to the Japanese automaker, it may prove difficult to devise clear rules stating that all decisions must be made through consultations. Current alliance rules are said to stipulate that Renault's CEO serves as the alliance head, by doubling as CEO of the Amsterdam-based company governing the alliance, Renault-Nissan B.V.

In Thursday's meeting, the three apparently did not discuss alterations to their capital partnership, or personnel matters regarding who will lead the alliance. With their chief play caller removed, the alliance still faces many hurdles.

The joint statement issued after the meeting noted that "Over the past few days, the board of directors of Groupe Renault, Nissan Motor Co., and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation have all -- individually and collectively -- emphatically reiterated their strong commitment to the alliance."

"The alliance has achieved unparalleled success in the past two decades. We remain fully committed to the Alliance," it said.

The statement follows 10 days of turmoil and uncertainty over the future of the alliance after Ghosn was arrested at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Japanese authorities allege that Nissan's onetime savior underreported his income and received other undeclared benefits.

Ghosn was subsequently sacked as chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi. However, he remains at the helm of Renault, with the French carmaker insisting that it has not yet seen the details of the allegations.

"The board is unable to comment on the evidence seemingly gathered against Mr. Ghosn," Renault said last week.

The arrest of Renault's chairman and CEO has brought to the surface friction between the French automaker -- as well as the French government, which holds a 15% stake in Renault -- and the Japanese management at Nissan, the alliance's more global automaker.

At the time of his arrest, Ghosn was thought of as the glue that held the alliance together.

Renault, which holds a 43% stake in Nissan, sought to name Ghosn's successor at the Japanese automaker before a board meeting last week. Nissan rejected this and announced that a candidate would be selected by its outside directors.

On the night of Ghosn's arrest on Nov. 19, Nissan's Saikawa said the partnership would not be affected by the allegations against him. The alliance in the future should not rely on "one particular individual, and aim for a more sustainable structure," he said.

On Thursday, it emerged that Tokyo prosecutors plan to seek an extension of Ghosn's detention period. Prosecutors can seek court approval to detain Ghosn for another 10 days before deciding whether to indict him.

On Wednesday, it was also alleged that Ghosn had considered personally buying overseas residences from a company subsidiary when the legality of their original purchase was questioned by auditors, sources familiar with the matter told Nikkei.

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