Ghosn resigns as Renault boss as French group enters new era

PARIS (AFP) – Arrested car boss Carlos Ghosn resigned his position 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 in Japan last November 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 AFP that Ghosn tendered his resignation late Wednesday – 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.

This November 8, 2018 file photo shows Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Carlos Ghosn delivering a speech during a visit of French President at the Renault factory, in Maubeuge, northern France. – AFP

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 eight years.

Ghosn has denied the charges, but with his release from jail unlikely anytime soon – his trial has yet to open – Renault’s board was preparing to name new directors.

The company’s board has named Thierry Bollore as its new Chief Executive and Jean-Dominique Senard as Board Chairman, replacing Ghosn following his arrest in Japan for alleged financial misconduct.

Senard will represent Renault in its powerful alliance with Japanese carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi, the French company added in a statement.

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.

“The agenda is to be limited to the discharge of directors Carlos Ghosn and (right-hand man) Greg Kelly, and the appointment of a new director to be nominated by Renault,” it said.

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.

Bollore, a 55-year-old at Renault since 2012, has held various positions in the car industry in Asia and is seen as someone who can maintain stability as the alliance enters a new era.

Media reports have suggested Nissan officials are bristling at suggestions of an even closer integration of their operations, though Le Maire denied such plans over the weekend.

Renault owns 43 per cent of Nissan, which in turn has just a 15 per cent 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, for example, who will replace Ghosn as head of the alliance. That role traditionally has been reserved for Renault’s CEO, while Nissan chooses its vice president.

Senard, for his part, is understood to have the backing of the French state, which owns just over 15 per cent of Renault and holds 22 per cent of the voting rights.

With a ready smile and elegant attire, Senard has successfully negotiated sensitive labour agreements with trade union leaders in Michelin’s French factories to preserve jobs in the face of cheaper imported Asian products.

Ghosn is expected to stay behind bars for several months after seeing a second bail request denied on Tuesday. His own lawyer has warned that a trial could take at least six months to organise given the complexity of the case.