Carlos Ghosn. Picture: REUTERS
Carlos Ghosn. Picture: REUTERS

Paris — Arrested car boss Carlos Ghosn has resigned as CEO and chair of Renault, ending his leadership roles in the automotive industry and signaling the start of a 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 chair of Japanese automotive groups Nissan and Mitsubishi.

But he 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 the letter of resignation from Carlos Ghosn last night,” 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 eight years.

Bolloré, 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

Ghosn has denied the charges, but with his release from jail unlikely any time soon, Renault’s board prepared to name new directors. The board is widely expected to name interim CEO  Thierry Bolloré as permanent CEO, and Michelin head Jean-Dominique Senard as its chair — both roles were previously held by Ghosn.

A meeting was scheduled for 9am GMT at the company’s headquarters outside Paris.

“The chair’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 (WEF) in Davos where, for years, Ghosn had enjoyed VIP status. “The CEO, for his part, is responsible for overseeing good operations on a day-to-day basis.” 

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 vehicles (EVs) as governments worldwide impose stricter emission cuts.

EVs require far fewer workers to build, and Renault has targeted €4bn in cost cuts by 2022, even as it aims to lift revenue to €70bn from €59bn in 2017.

Bolloré, 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.” 

Alliance ‘not in danger’

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

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

He 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”.

AFP