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Renault to chart course for post-Ghosn era with new bosses

Deciding on the future of the alliance is set to be a tricky task/AFP-File

PARIS, France, Jan 24 – Renault is expected Thursday to appoint a new leadership duo to drive the French carmaker into an era without lynchpin Carlos Ghosn, who remains in a Japanese jail on financial misconduct charges.

The firm is poised to select interim chief executive Thierry Bollore as CEO and the head of tyre manufacturer Michelin, Jean-Dominique Senard, as chairman. Ghosn previously held both roles but has reportedly resigned as he fights the charges in Japan.

A board meeting will take place at 10:00am (0900 GMT) near Paris to replace Ghosn, who has been at the head of the firm since 2005 as well as leading Renault’s three-way alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors.

The alliance sold more cars than any other group last year but its future has been thrown into uncertainty with the stunning arrest of Ghosn, who is widely credited with driving the fractious companies together.

Bollore, 55, is viewed as an old Asia hand which should help in relations with Nissan. A keen sailor, he will have to plot a course through choppy waters in the wake of the Ghosn shock.

The 66-year-old Senard is understood to have the backing of the French state, which owns just over 15 percent of Renault and holds 22 percent of the voting rights.

The Michelin man has worked at the firm since 2005 and was the first non-family member to head the world’s second-largest tyre manufacturer. He was due to hand over the CEO role to his deputy in May.

With a ready smile and elegant attire, Senard has successfully negotiated sensitive labour agreements with trade union leaders in Michelin’s French factories to preserve jobs in the face of cheaper imported Asian products.

‘Merger ‘not on table’

Jean-Dominique Senard is poised to take over at a tricky time/AFP-File

Ghosn is expected to stay behind bars for several months after seeing a second bail request denied on Tuesday. His own lawyer has warned that a trial could take at least six months to organise given the complexity of the case.

He faces three separate charges: two of under-declaring his income by tens of millions of dollars over eight years and another of seeking to shift personal investment losses onto Nissan.

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The 64-year-old executive has been seen in public only once since his arrest on November 19 stunned the business world – in a dramatic courtroom appearance where he passionately denied the charges and declared his “genuine love” for Nissan.

Current Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who oversaw his former mentor’s downfall, has stressed that the alliance is “absolutely not in danger”.

But there are question marks over the tie-up with what critics say is an imbalance in the complex power structure.

Renault holds 43 percent of Nissan, which itself holds 15 percent of Renault – just less than the French state. The French firm and Ghosn were seen as the saviours of Nissan when it was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Carlos Ghosn is likely to remain behind bars for the foreseeable future /AFP-File

The question of who replaces Ghosn as head of the alliance promises to be a headache. The statutes of the tie-up say Renault appoints the CEO while Nissan chooses the deputy.

But the Japanese firm now outperforms its French “superior” – selling 5.81 million cars in 2017 compared with 3.76 million for Renault.

This has led to grumbling within Nissan that its weight is not properly represented and even to conspiracy theories that Ghosn’s downfall was orchestrated by frustrated Nissan executives – which Saikawa dismisses as “absurd”.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has insisted that a full merger between the two is “not on the table” despite Japanese media reports that Paris is pushing for such an outcome.

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