Exclusive: Renault-Nissan boardroom fight masks French merger push

Wed Nov 4, 2015 10:33am EST
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By Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume

PARIS (Reuters) - French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron is pressuring Renault (RENA.PA: Quote) boss Carlos Ghosn to undertake a full merger with alliance partner Nissan (7201.T: Quote) on the government's terms, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Macron's push sheds more light on a power struggle that burst into public view when the government, the French carmaker's biggest shareholder, raised its Renault stake in April to secure double voting rights.

It also represents a change of stance by the government, which has previously been wary of an outright Renault-Nissan combination that would weaken its grip on the partnership.

Renault shares surged on the initial Reuters report.

Macron has been urging the Renault-Nissan CEO for months to set up a joint working group with his officials to explore merger scenarios that would tie Renault to its more profitable partner and safeguard French plants and jobs, government and company sources said.

Ghosn, who heads both carmakers, has ignored the demands and may instead be forced to "reactivate" his own consolidation options, according to alliance insiders. These include ideas for a full merger - with less government influence - that were drawn up in 2013 with input from Goldman Sachs and set aside.

"This is causing him to go faster than he had planned to," a company source said. "I would never count Ghosn out."

The boardroom tussle has exposed rival visions for the future of Renault-Nissan, a 16-year-old industrial pairing held together by crossed shareholdings. Renault owns a 43.4 percent controlling stake in Nissan, which holds a non-voting 15 percent of its French parent.   Continued...

Nissan Motor Co Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn speaks during an interview with Reuters at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo, Japan, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai