YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Japan’s Nissan Motor and France’s Renault said they would retool the world’s top car-making alliance to put themselves on more equal footing, breaking up the all-powerful chairmanship previously wielded by ousted boss Carlos Ghosn.
The removal of Ghosn, credited for rescuing Nissan from near-bankruptcy in 1999, had caused much uncertainty about the future of the alliance and some speculation the partnership could even unravel.
The companies, together with junior ally Mitsubishi Motors, on Tuesday said the chairman of Renault would serve as the head of the alliance but - in a critical sign of the rebalancing - not as chairman of Nissan.
Nissan has said that Ghosn wielded too much power, creating a lack of oversight and corporate governance. It was not clear who would become Nissan’s chairman, vacant since Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November.
But the automakers gave no indication of any immediate change in their cross-shareholding agreement, one which has given smaller Renault SA more sway over Nissan.
The so-called Restated Alliance Master Agreement that has bound them together so far remains intact, they said.
“We are fostering a new start of the alliance. There is nothing to do with the shareholdings and the cross-shareholdings that are still there and still in place,” Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said at a news conference.
“Our future lies in the efficiency of this alliance,” he told reporters at Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama.
Senard also said he would not seek to be chairman of Nissan, but instead was a “natural candidate” to be vice-chairman.
Former Nissan chairman Ghosn was released on a $9 million bail last week after spending more than 100 days in a Tokyo detention center. He faces charges of under-reporting his salary at the Japanese automaker by about $82 million over nearly a decade - charges he has called “meritless”.
Ghosn, who has not spoken to media since his release, put in a request with a Tokyo court on Monday to attend Nissan’s board meeting the next day, but he was not given permission.
Under the terms of his bail, he would have needed the court’s nod to attend.
Ghosn will not hold a highly anticipated news conference until next week at the earliest and is not planning to attend Nissan’s shareholder meeting next month, his lawyer said.
“Mr Ghosn wants to have some time to mull over what he’s going to say,” Junichiro Hironaka told reporters outside his Tokyo office after meeting with Ghosn throughout the day.
Ghosn left his lawyer’s office in the evening without taking questions from reporters.
In the wake of the scandal, Renault has started its own review of payments to Ghosn. French prosecutors have opened a preliminary inquiry into how he financed his 2016 wedding at the Chateau de Versailles, French media have reported.
His dramatic arrest and the detention exposed tensions between Nissan and top shareholder Renault, complicating the outlook for a partnership that is the world’s largest maker of automobiles, excluding heavy trucks.
Some at Nissan had been unhappy with Ghosn’s push for a deeper tie-up with Renault, which was seen as possibly including a full merger. Smaller Renault bought 43 percent of Nissan ahead of the 1999 rescue.
Nissan holds a 15 percent, non-voting stake in Renault, whose top shareholder is the French government.
Additional reporting by Tim Kelly, William Mallard, Ran Kim and Ritsuko Ando in Tokyo; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing