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Nissan and Renault Overhaul Alliance as They Look Past Carlos Ghosn

Category: Automobile,Finance

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Nissan and Renault on Tuesday vowed to preserve their sprawling car-making alliance and overhaul how it works, as the Japanese and French automakers seek to move past the removal of their former top executive, Carlos Ghosn.

The announcement leaves open some significant questions, like how the alliance might resolve tensions between their French and Japanese sides.

But at a rare joint news conference at Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, executives portrayed it as a way to move past the problems that have called the future of the Renault-Nissan alliance into question. The success of the alliance has been largely attributed to Mr. Ghosn’s force of will and personality. His departure created a power vacuum in the group and raised doubts about its future.

But if they can’t work together, the two companies and their third partner, Mitsubishi Motors of Japan, could find it tough to manage in the increasingly competitive car business, said Jean-Dominique Senard, the new chairman of Renault and Mr. Ghosn’s successor at the French automaker.

“We are in a destructive industry,” he said, adding, “we will have to be close, each to the other, because if not, if we are alone, we will never succeed.”

The alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi was thrown into chaos last November, when Mr. Ghosn — who was the chairman of all three companies — was arrested by Japanese authorities. Prosecutors have accused him of dramatically underreporting his compensation and shifting his personal investment losses to Nissan’s books. Mr. Ghosn has denied the charges and said he was set up by Nissan executives who opposed closer ties to Renault.

Mr. Ghosn — who was released from a Tokyo jail on 1 billion yen, or about $9 million, bail last week — has been removed as the chairman of all three companies, but remains on their boards. Nevertheless, his ability to wield the positions to his advantage has been severely limited: On Monday, a Tokyo district judge denied Mr. Ghosn’s request to attend Tuesday’s meeting. The conditions of Mr. Ghosn’s bail prevent him from having contact with some of the alliance’s key members, including Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan’s chairman and Mr. Ghosn’s successor.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Ghosn said the former executive was disappointed by the judge’s decision to block him from attending Tuesday’s meeting.

“As an elected member of the board, Mr. Ghosn stands ready to fulfill his professional duties to the shareholders who elected him,” the statement said.

On Tuesday, the three companies said they would set up a new operating board that will replace a cluster of organizations that currently manage different aspects of the alliance. One of those organizations, a company called Renault-Nissan B.V., is the subject of a joint investigation between Nissan and Renault into potential misuse of alliance funds for Mr. Ghosn’s personal use.

The new board will have four members and seek to operate on the basis of consensus, according to a memorandum outlining the decision. It will be weighted toward Renault: Mr. Senard and Thierry Bolloré, its chief executive, will fill two of the slots. Nissan and Mitsubishi will each fill one slot.

The new organization will likely do little to resolve questions about whether Renault would push Nissan to develop closer ties. While Renault has argued that closer ties would help them better work together and share costs, some Nissan executives and others in Japan have worried about the company’s independence and cultures. Renault owns a 43 percent stake in Nissan, which in turn owned a 15 percent stake in the French automaker, though the Japanese company doesn’t have voting rights.

The new arrangement “has nothing to do with the shareholdings and the cross-shareholdings that are still in place,” Mr. Senard said, responding to a question from Japanese news media about whether he would be able to guarantee Nissan would not be subsumed by the French company.

Still, Mr. Senard pledged that he would “not seek to be chairman of Nissan.”

“I will respect, of course, the new governance of Nissan.”

The chief executives of the three companies and Mr. Senard, a top executive at the tire-maker Michelin with a reputation for having a soft touch in handling industrial relations, sought to assuage concerns about the group’s future.

“The potential is huge,” Mr. Senard said. “The three companies together are going to increase dramatically the way they are able to efficiently work together.”

On their own, the alliance companies are middleweight contenders, but together, they have been able to challenge the world’s biggest automakers. Last year, the alliance sold nearly 11 million cars.

Asked about the accusations against his predecessor, Mr. Senard demurred.

“I’m looking at the future, not at the past,” he said. “As long as there is no judgment on these facts, we cannot utter a word.”

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