Exclusive: French compromise snubbed as Renault-Nissan pursues shake-up - sources

Fri Nov 13, 2015 8:37am EST
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By Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume

PARIS (Reuters) - France has offered to limit its voting rights at Renault (RENA.PA: Quote) in a bid to end its power struggle with the carmaker and partner Nissan, but their combined CEO Carlos Ghosn remains determined to push through changes that would give the Japanese company more say over the alliance, sources said.

The government overture, and its chilly reception, suggest the standoff with Ghosn may have slipped beyond the control of Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron.

The row became public in April when Macron increased France's stake in Renault to secure double voting rights. That raised hackles in Tokyo and prompted preparatory work by the alliance to alter its balance of power in Nissan's favor.

Sources with knowledge of the matter say the government has now softened its stance, offering to limit its voting rights just hours before an emergency Renault board meeting on Nov. 6. They gave no details of the proposed cap.

However Hiroto Saikawa, Ghosn's second-in-command at Nissan (7201.T: Quote), expressed deep dissatisfaction with the French position during the meeting, one of the sources said.

"Just going back to the situation of seven months ago is not enough," said a Renault-Nissan insider familiar with alliance thinking. "It's clear there has to be a better balance between the two companies."

Spokespersons for Renault, Nissan and the French government declined to comment.

Renault currently owns a 43.4 percent controlling stake in Nissan, which nonetheless accounts for two-thirds of combined vehicle sales and a bigger share of profit. Nissan in turn holds a non-voting 15 percent of its French parent, with Ghosn, 61, heading both carmakers.   Continued...

An employee works on the automobile assembly line of Bluecar electric city cars at Renault car maker factory in Dieppe, western France, September 1, 2015.  REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer