Renault turns to VW's De Meo as car maker seeks fresh start

PARIS (Reuters) - Renault's RENA.PA Tuesday named Luca de Meo, the former head of Volkswagen's VOWG_p.DE Seat brand, as its next chief executive, as the car maker looks to draw a line under a year of turmoil by finalizing a long-awaited management shake-up.

De Meo's appointment fills one of the big gaps left at the French company after it cleared the decks following the 2018 arrest in Tokyo of former boss Carlos Ghosn, and as it seeks to reset its strained alliance with Japan's Nissan Motor Co 7201.T.

Ghosn, who forged and oversaw the Renault-Nissan partnership for almost two decades, has since fled Japan to Lebanon, from where he has contested the financial misconduct charges against him and said the partnership was at risk of collapse.

De Meo will start on July 1, Renault said in a statement.

Nissan said it welcomed his appointment.

“We are all looking forward to working closely with him and our Alliance partners in our efforts to support mutually profitable growth,” Nissan President and CEO Makoto Uchida said in a statement on Wednesday.

Clotilde Delbos, the car maker’s finance chief who has been interim CEO since former Ghosn ally Thierry Bollore was ousted last October, will then become deputy CEO.

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Italian-born De Meo had been hotly tipped for the job, but faced hurdles because of a non-compete clause in his VW contract, sources previously told Reuters.

De Meo will have his work cut out to turn around the firm. He will take the reins under Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, brought in last January from tire maker Michelin, and who has so far emerged as the de facto senior figure in the Renault-Nissan alliance.

Like rivals, Renault is grappling with a downturn in demand, and has said it expects a slight decline in the car market in Europe, Russia and China this year.

The firm has also presented 2020 as a make-or-break year for the alliance with Nissan and is under pressure to deliver on cost savings and joint industrial projects.

Automakers face pressure to meet stringent new emissions targets with less polluting models, and are also competing to produce innovations such as self-driving cars, which require large investments.

De Meo, who speaks French, will be one of a growing handful of outsiders in senior company jobs in France.

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The 52-year-old started his career at Renault and has worked at Fiat - where he was one of the managers who helped launch the Fiat 500 model along late boss Sergio Marchionne - and Audi among other brands.

De Meo is credited with revitalizing sales at Barcelona-based Seat, imbuing it with a more sporty image and accelerating projects that were already in the works.

His portfolio will be markedly larger at Renault, however, whose brands include Dacia and Lada.

Reporting by Gilles Guillaume in Paris, Additional reporting by Sakura Murakami in Tokyo, Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Mark Potter and Josephine Mason