Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi moving on without Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn may be out of jail, but the global auto alliance he built is moving on without him.

Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors announced Tuesday that they are reorganizing their international partnership following the financial misconduct scandal that brought down Ghosn, their former chairman.

A new four-member board will take charge of overseeing the alliance, which makes more than 10 million vehicles a year, the companies said at a news conference at Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama, Japan.

The new board will comprise the CEOs of the three carmakers and be led by new Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. It replaces two Amsterdam-based joint ventures through which Ghosn and his lieutenants ran the alliance previously.

The new leadership structure of the alliance will allow Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi to cooperate more efficiently and respond more rapidly to challenges facing the auto industry, such as the shift to electric vehicles, the companies said Tuesday.

Ghosn, who was released on bail last week while he awaits trial in Japan, had sought permission to attend a Nissan board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. But the Tokyo court that set his bail conditions rejected his request. He remains a Nissan director, despite being stripped of the chairman’s role.

Ghosn has been indicted on charges of understating his income in Nissan filings and abusing his positions by transferring investment losses onto the company. He denies any wrongdoing. If found guilty, he could face as many as 15 years in prison.

Separately from the charges brought by Japanese prosecutors, Nissan and Mitsubishi said in January that Ghosn improperly received €7.8 million ($8.9 million) in compensation and other payments from one of the alliance’s Amsterdam-based joint ventures without the approval of other board members.

Making the alliance more efficient

The three carmakers share ownership stakes, technology and manufacturing facilities. The setup has brought financial benefits. Pooling resources between the three manufacturers saves them more than €5 billion ($5.7 billion) a year in costs, according to the companies.

One aspect of their relationship that won’t change is their complicated ownership structure, which has been a source of tension in the past. Nissan, which sells more vehicles than Renault, has only a 15% non-voting stake in the French company. Renault holds more than 40% of Nissan.

Ghosn has claimed that his downfall was brought about by Nissan executives who opposed his plans to deepen the Japanese company’s integration with Renault.

Analysts have repeatedly speculated that Nissan executives were uncomfortable about the possibility of Renault and Ghosn seeking full control of the Japanese company.

Nissan has given a different version of events, saying that it began cooperating with Japanese prosecutors after a whistleblower helped it uncover serious financial misconduct by Ghosn.

Senard on Tuesday sought to ease any fears of a French takeover, saying he wouldn’t seek the chairmanship of Nissan, a role which remains vacant following Ghosn’s departure.