PARIS (Reuters) - Renault (RENA.PA) second-in-command Carlos Tavares quit on Thursday, two weeks after he dismayed colleagues by hinting he might join one of the U.S. carmakers.
Tavares, chief operating officer at the French auto manufacturer, said in an interview he had “the energy and appetite for a No. 1 position” but was unlikely to succeed Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, 59, any time soon.
“My experience would be good for any car company,” Tavares was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. “Why not GM? I would be honoured to lead a company like GM.”
“It raised a lot of eyebrows,” said one Renault insider who asked not to be identified. “How do you motivate your teams when you’ve said publicly you’d rather be at GM or Ford?”
Another colleague said Tavares’ ouster followed an informal meeting on August 26 at which Ghosn “sounded out” senior company officials.
“It’s brutal, but what Tavares had said in (the interview) did not win him any friends.”
Tavares’ exit marks the second departure by a Ghosn lieutenant in as many years after his predecessor, Patrick Pelata, was ousted over his role in the wrongful dismissal of three executives.
“This is clearly bad news for Renault,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Gaetan Toulemonde.
“Tavares is a real car guy, and replacing him internally is no easy matter because the alliance structure isn’t simple - you need someone who has a certain recognition at Nissan as well.”
Renault said in a statement Tavares would cease to be COO immediately and his duties would be assumed temporarily by Ghosn who also heads Japanese affiliate Nissan (7201.T).
Renault shares were up 0.1 percent at 56.33 euros as of 1355 GMT (02.55 p.m. British time), trailing a 1.5 percent gain for the 14-member Stoxx 600 Autos and parts index .SXAP
General Motors (GM.N), whose CEO Dan Akerson is 64, declined to comment on Tavares’ remarks or his departure.
Ford (F.N) spokesman Jay Cooney said the company has “succession plans in place for each of our key leadership positions” including CEO Alan Mulally, 68. Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields is widely seen as heir apparent.
“Our preference always is to develop talent internally, and we are fortunate to have a strong list of internal candidates,” Cooney said.
Tavares joined Renault in 1981 and moved to Nissan 23 years later as programme director for compact cars and rose to the rank of Americas chief before returning to Renault in 2011.
In that last Nissan role, he slashed production costs with an industrial expansion in Mexico and won $1.6 billion in U.S. Energy Department funding for an electric-car battery plant.
His exit deals a setback to Ghosn’s efforts to revive the domestic industrial base with new production for 43.4 percent-owned Nissan and a renewed push into larger, plusher and performance cars.
Tavares also piloted a ground-breaking labour deal with French unions that introduced wage restraint and longer working hours in return for production commitments.
His determination to narrow the pricing gap with German rival Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) also helped deliver an unexpected increase in core earnings in the first half, despite falling sales.
Senior executives who have worked with Tavares say privately he would be well suited to a high-placed role at a U.S. carmaker.
“If it’s between Germany and the U.S., America would be more in line with his temperament and experience,” one said.
Additional reporting by Christiaan Hetzner in Frankfurt and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by David Cowell