YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Nissan Motor threw cold water on Tuesday hoping to quickly resolve its tense relationship with French Renault SA, saying the inequality between partners could dissolve their two-decade-old alliance in automotive manufacturing.
FILE PHOTO: Nissan President and CEO Hiroto Saikawa attends a press conference at Headquarters in Yokohama, Japan on December 17, 2018. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon / File photo
Address to Nissan's Annual General At his first meeting in Yokohama following the dramatic overthrow of former chairman Carlos Ghosn last year, CEO Hiroto Saikawa said he wanted to uphold the spirit of equal rights in the Alliance – despite a shareholding structure that Nissan has long regarded as one-sided. Tuesday's meeting will take place just days after the settlement of a public dispute between Saikawa and Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard over appointment to the newly created Nissan Steering Boards.
"We want a win-win relationship with Renault. The Alliance has been successful so far because we have respected the independence of others, "said Saikawa.
"If necessary, we put our capital structure on the table. When the relationship becomes a win-loss relationship, the relationship is resolved very quickly.
His comments are some of the worst in recent remembrance of the alliance, signaling that Nissan is becoming increasingly concerned about the relationship.
"Our priority is to restore our performance, which means that discussions on the future of the Alliance will be postponed," Saikawa told shareholders.
"It is crucial to create future opportunities with Renault to discuss options for the Alliance. I would like to discuss this with Senard. "
Shareholders of Japan's second largest automaker voted on a new leadership structure and eleven-member board after Ghosn was arrested last year for allegations of financial misconduct – which he denied – and uncovered audit inefficiencies in the firm.
Renault, Nissan's largest shareholder, with 43.4% of the Japanese automaker, had demanded additional representation of its directors in the Nissan corporations overseeing the company's audit and nomination.
Saikawa had initially pushed back these demands, but at the end of last week, Nissan Senard and Renault boss Thierry Bollore admitted seats on its nomination and audit committees.
Although this maneuver has helped lift the Nissan-Renault alliance out of the crisis – and possibly saved Saikawa's work – Ghosn's former lieutenant now faces the unenviable task of sustaining the tense partnership.
Nissan shareholders also returned Saikawa to the automaker's board on Tuesday, as expected. By re-ordering, he may oppose the opposition of the proxy advisors.
In a rare public reprimand by international proxies against the leader of a high-profile Japanese company, International Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis called on Nissan shareholders to vote against the re-appointment of Saikawa as director.
Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by David Dolan and Christopher Cushing