Seeking merger with Renault was futile, Saikawa recalls

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Former Nissan Motor Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa said the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn caused a temporary rift in Nissan’s alliance with its largest shareholder, Renault SA. 

Former Nissan Motor Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa said the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn caused a temporary rift in Nissan’s alliance with its largest shareholder, Renault SA. 

“It was futile to put energy into integration. The key was how to use the existing partnership to turn things around,” Saikawa said in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, explaining why he continued to oppose the planned management integration with Renault that the French automaker was insisting on.

Ghosn’s mission

 Saikawa said the merger with Renault was proposed in February 2018. 

 A statement that announced Ghosn’s reappointment as Renault CEO stipulated: “Ghosn’s mission is to take decisive steps to make the alliance irreversible.” 

 At the time, Ghosn was also chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., and had the authority of a three-way alliance. Ghosn told Saikawa that he could “obtain agreement from Renault,” but Saikawa pushed back. He recalled saying: “I don’t think Nissan would agree, and there would be more side effects [than benefits]. So I’m against it.” 

 In November of the same year, when Ghosn was arrested on suspicion of underreporting his remuneration on financial statements, a rumor spread among Renault executives who supported Ghosn that Nissan ousted Ghosn to avoid a merger with Renault. Relations between the two companies rapidly cooled. 

 “It took me three months to make them understand,” Saikawa said.

 Concerns about Renault rapidly increased within Nissan when Ghosn’s successor, Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, abruptly sounded out Nissan in April about the management integration plan.

 Saikawa said, “I was surprised that some executives proposed taking Nissan back to before 1999, the year it formed a capital alliance with Renault, and having only Japanese people run the company.”

Reviewing investment ratio

 When Renault sought to merge with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in May, Nissan might have been able to ask Renault to review its stake in Nissan in return for allowing the merger. 

 “I was ready to discuss rectifying the investment ratio. If only I’d had a chance to do it sometime between June and August,” Saikawa said.

 In September, the issue of Saikawa receiving unfair remuneration emerged, and the debate has since faded away.

 From Dec. 1, Nissan will form a triumvirate when Senior Vice President Makoto Uchida, 53, becomes Nissan president and CEO; Ashwani Gupta, 49, from Mitsubishi becomes chief operating officer; and Nissan Senior Vice President Jun Seki, 58, in charge of performance recovery, is promoted to vice COO.

 “Those three fully understand the significance of the alliance. I want them to have power and a leader’s voice so they can have equal discussions with Renault,” Saikawa said.

  Saikawa currently remains on Nissan’s board. He is scheduled to retire from the board next February, but even after that, Saikawa said he “is responsible as a former president for helping the company to improve.” 

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