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Ghosn's Global Auto Alliance restructures, leaving him behind

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Nissan Motor, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp adopted a new governance structure on Tuesday designed to make it easier for them to make operational decisions and to prevent the crimes allegedly committed by Ghosn from happening again.

[TOKYO] The global auto empire that Carlos Ghosn built over two decades is moving on without him.

Nissan Motor, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp adopted a new governance structure on Tuesday designed to make it easier for them to make operational decisions and to prevent the crimes allegedly committed by Ghosn from happening again. Meeting every month in Tokyo or Paris, the new operating board will seek to "enhance the strength of our collaboration," said Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, who will chair the new group.

At stake is the alliance's ability to compete in an industry that's facing tighter environmental regulations and the ascendancy of electric and driverless cars.

While France's Renault had been pushing for deeper ties with its Japanese partner, Nissan chief executive officer Hiroto Saikawa had long opposed a full merger. Yet the reality is that the three automakers need each other to compete against Daimler AG, Toyota Motor Corp, Tesla Inc and numerous Chinese startups.

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"This is a big step forward," Mr Saikawa said at a news conference at Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama.

Absent from the table was the executive who was instrumental in setting up the three-way alliance and its complicated cross-holding structure. Although Ghosn's free on bail and remains a director, his bid to join a Nissan board meeting to vote on the new structure was rebuffed by the Tokyo District Court on Monday.

Ghosn wanted to join the meeting to explain himself personally to fellow directors, but the court ruled that meeting with people involved in the case against him for allegedly falsifying financial records and breach of trust would violate the terms of his bail. His trial may begin later this year.

"Mr. Ghosn stands ready to fulfill his professional duties to the shareholders who elected him," a spokesman said in an email. "It is unfortunate that the meritless and unsubstantiated accusations against him have blocked his ideas and perspective from being deployed in service of the company he served for the past 20 years."

Although Ghosn was stripped of his titles at all three automakers, he remains a director at Nissan and Renault. A meeting of Nissan shareholders set for April 8 will vote on whether to remove him from the board.

While Ghosn ran the boards of both Renault and Nissan, and was working toward combining the companies until his arrest, Tuesday's announcement by the three companies was the clearest signal yet that Ghosn's fate shouldn't alter the accord.

The new structure will replace two separate Netherlands-based alliance entities, Renault-Nissan BV and Nissan-Mitsubishi BV. While the carmakers' own investigations found that Ghosn funneled money from the Dutch units, he has said that the claims of improper payments were a "distortion of reality."

"Now that Ghosn's influential leadership is gone, there's a risk that each party will become more sharply focused on their self-interests," said Tatsuo Yoshida, an analyst at Sawakami Asset Management. "They need to have a structure where decisions are made transparently."

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