Ghosn resigns as Renault boss, French group enters new era

GHOSN. In this file photo taken on April 29, 2005 then-Nissan's chief executive Carlos Ghosn gestures during the Renault general assembly in Paris. File photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP

GHOSN. In this file photo taken on April 29, 2005 then-Nissan's chief executive Carlos Ghosn gestures during the Renault general assembly in Paris.

File photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP

PARIS, France – Arrested car boss Carlos Ghosn has resigned as chief executive and chairman of Renault, ending his leadership roles in the auto industry and signalling the start of new era for the French manufacturer.

Ghosn, the most powerful man in car-making until his sensational arrest last November in Japan on financial misconduct charges, had already been sacked as chairman of Japanese auto groups Nissan and Mitsubishi.

But the 64-year-old had held on to the top job at Renault, which has been run on an interim basis by one of his deputies while he languishes in a Japanese jail.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire confirmed to Agence France-Presse that Ghosn tendered his resignation late Wednesday, January 23 – ahead of a Renault board meeting in Paris that would have seen him replaced.

A senior director from the firm "received last night the letter of resignation from Carlos Ghosn," Le Maire said at the Davos gathering in Switzerland.

As head of Renault since 2005, Ghosn was the keystone of its alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi, forging an industry powerhouse which together sold more cars than any of its rivals last year.

But his career came screeching to a halt when Tokyo police arrested him on suspicion of under-reporting millions of dollars in income over 8 years.

Ghosn has denied the charges, but with his release from jail unlikely anytime soon, Renault's board prepared to name new directors.

The board is widely expected to name interim chief executive Thierry Bollore as permanent CEO, and Michelin head Jean-Dominique Senard as its chairman – both roles were previously held by Ghosn.

A meeting was scheduled for 10:00 am (0900 GMT) at the company's headquarters outside Paris.

"The chairman's role will be to ensure, alongside the French state, the reinforcement of the Nissan and Renault alliance, which is a strategic priority," Le Maire told media at the World Economic Forum in Davos where for years Ghosn had enjoyed VIP status.

"The chief executive, for his part, is responsible for overseeing good operations on a day-to-day basis," Le Maire noted.

Uncertain future

The future of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance has been thrown into doubt with the arrest of Ghosn, who is widely credited with reviving Nissan and fusing together two vastly different corporate cultures.

Although Renault posted record sales of nearly 3.9 million vehicles last year and is in rude financial health, it is grappling with the industry's shift to electric cars as governments worldwide impose stricter emission cuts.

E-vehicles require far fewer workers to build, and Renault has targeted 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in cost cuts by 2022, even as it aims to lift revenue to 70 billion euros from 59 billion euros in 2017.

Bollore, a 55-year-old at Renault since 2012, has held various positions in the car industry in Asia, including Japan, giving him valuable experience that will be helpful in maintaining the alliance as it enters a new era, analysts say.

Renault owns 43% of Nissan, which in turn has just a 15% stake in its French partner – and no voting rights.

But Nissan's market value is nearly double that of Renault's, prompting some to expect the Japanese side will seek to rebalance the terms of their relationship.

It remains unclear who will replace Ghosn as head of the alliance, a role traditionally reserved for Renault's CEO, while Nissan chooses its vice president.

Nissan said separately that it would hold an extraordinary shareholders' meeting by mid-April to remove Ghosn from its board, having already stripped the Franco-Lebanese-Brazilian executive of the chairmanship.

Le Maire called Nissan's move a "positive signal" for the alliance.

"The shareholder meeting on one hand, the Renault board meeting on the other: it's a new start for Renault and a new start for the alliance," he said.

- Alliance 'not in danger' -

Ghosn is expected to stay behind bars for several months after seeing a second bail request denied on Tuesday, January 22.

He faces 3 separate charges: two of under-declaring his income by tens of millions of dollars over 8 years and another of seeking to shift personal investment losses onto Nissan.

The 64-year-old executive has been seen in public only once since his arrest on November 19 stunned the business world – in a dramatic courtroom appearance where he passionately denied the charges and declared his "genuine love" for Nissan.

Current Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who oversaw his former mentor's downfall, has stressed that the alliance is "absolutely not in danger." – Rappler.com