Renault's Ghosn cedes Avtovaz chairmanship to Rostec exec

PARIS, April 18 (Reuters) - Renault-Nissan said on Monday it will give up the chairmanship of Avtovaz, a further sign that its hold on the maker of Lada cars has been weakened by recent tensions over restructuring at a time of collapsing Russian demand for vehicles.

A senior executive from Russian state-owned Rostec, the minority shareholder in Avtovaz, will take over as chairman of its board from Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, the carmaking alliance said in a statement.

Sergei Skvortsov, the defence conglomerate’s deputy general director, is expected to be appointed Avtovaz chairman at a June 23 board meeting, Renault-Nissan said.

Ghosn and Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov “will continue to play an active role in Avtovaz’s strategy”, the statement added. A separate Avtovaz communique said both men were to leave its board.

The board changes follow the ousting of Bo Andersson, picked by Ghosn in 2014 to turn the sprawling Russian carmaker around and clean up its supplier network. He was replaced this month by Nicolas Maure, who previously ran Renault’s Dacia division in Romania.

Andersson’s exit came months after Chemezov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, publicly criticised the Avtovaz CEO over heavy layoffs at the carmaker and among local suppliers it had dropped or forced to restructure.

With his own Rostec lieutenant as chairman, Chemezov may bolster his influence over Avtovaz. Economic crisis has heightened the political sensitivity of restructuring decisions in Togliatti, Lada’s home town, where hundreds of thousands of livelihoods still depend on the carmaker and its suppliers.

Under the weight of international sanctions, a weak rouble and dwindling oil revenues, Russia’s auto market has shrunk by roughly half in four years and is set to fall further in 2016.

Ghosn, 62, retains the chairmanship of Alliance Rostec Auto BV, the holding company controlled by Renault-Nissan and which in turn holds a majority of Avtovaz.

Renault recently slashed the value of its 37 percent indirect Avtovaz stake to just 96 million euros, while vowing to ride out a crisis that has forced General Motors to withdraw and other carmakers to retrench.

Renault had paid $1 billion for an initial 25 percent holding in 2008 and since contributed hundreds of millions more in successive cash injections. Ghosn has served as chairman since 2013, when Renault and Nissan moved to take joint control. (Reporting by Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume in Paris, Lidia Kelly in Moscow; Editing by Keith Weir)