February 14, 2019 / 12:51 AM / 9 months ago

Renault Chairman Senard set to meet Nissan CEO during Japan visit

TOKYO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Renault SA Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is set to meet with Nissan Motor Co Ltd CEO Hiroto Saikawa during a visit to Japan as the automakers reassess their partnership following the arrest and ouster of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.

Three weeks after being appointed chairman of the French automaker, Senard, who is likely to be named to the Japanese automaker’s board, was widely expected to visit Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama on Thursday and Friday to meet with board members and management teams.

His visit will be the first by Renault’s top brass since Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo over allegations of financial misconduct in November, which resulted in the downfall of one of the auto industry’s most feted executives and ramped up tensions between the two automakers.

One person with direct knowledge of the visit said it was intended as an introductory call to Nissan, of which Renault owns 43.3 percent, and would include one-on-one meetings with some executives.

When asked on Thursday about the talks, Saikawa said: “The main thing is to talk about the future responsibly,” Jiji news agency reported.

Senard’s appointment in late January helped quell a leadership debate which erupted after Nissan dismissed Ghosn immediately after his arrest while Renault had initially stuck by the executive, and has opened a path for Renault and Nissan re-examine the operations and structure of their alliance.

Joining Renault from tyre maker Michelin, Senard is generally seen by Nissan as a welcome outsider who could provide more balance to the alliance, over which Nissan has said Ghosn held excessive control given his roles as chairman of Renault, Nissan and partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp, along with being Renault CEO.

Senard’s meeting with Saikawa would be the second since they first met face-to-face late last month.

Another person with direct knowledge of the matter said Senard would also meet executives at Mitsubishi Motors, in which Nissan holds a controlling stake. Nissan has a non-voting, 15 percent stake in Renault.

This new chapter of Renault-Nissan relations will be crucial for the future of both automakers which have seen limited progress in raising operating margins despite efforts to integrate operations including manufacturing, procurement and R&D.

Earlier this week, Nissan said its annual profit will plumb six-year lows due to waning global sales and an ongoing slump in its U.S. operations.

Renault is continuing to sever ties with Ghosn, announcing on Wednesday that it had decided to scrap certain lucrative pay arrangements for Ghosn, who has been charged in Japan with under-reporting his Nissan salary in 2010-2018.

Meanwhile, Ghosn, in custody at a detention centre in Tokyo for nearly three months, on Wednesday replaced his chief attorney with a legal team headed by one of Japan’s most fiery lawyers in a move seen as taking on a more aggressive strategy in fighting his charges, which he denies.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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