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Nissan extends olive branch to Renault as ties hit new low


NISSAN Motor chief executive officer Hiroto Saikawa extended an olive branch to Renault after an acrimonious spat over proposed governance changes at the Japanese automaker.

In an interview with Financial Times, Mr Saikawa said Nissan must "make our peace" with the French carmaker. The companies need to "stabilise and reinforce" their partnership, he told the newspaper. "This is the most important thing."

Hostilities between Nissan and Renault had plumbed new lows, threatening their two-decade alliance - before a truce was suggested.

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It's not clear whether any ceasefire will hold: Mr Saikawa himself had criticised Renault's plan to stymie Nissan's board reforms. That, in turn, was an apparent riposte by Renault after Nissan refused to endorse a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Relations between the carmakers were already strained by the arrest in Tokyo last November of Carlos Ghosn, the industry titan who oversaw the manufacturers and their alliance. That crisis triggered plans for sweeping corporate governance reform at Nissan's board. Mr Saikawa had said it was "most regrettable" that Renault planned to stymie those changes.

The implosion of Renault's merger plans with Fiat brought the conflict into the open, with Nissan's reluctance to endorse the deal said to be partially responsible for its failure.

In the aftermath, Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard sent a letter threatening to block Nissan's plans to overhaul its governance structure, changes hashed out in the wake of the Ghosn scandal. Renault holds a 43 per cent stake in the Yokohama-based company.

In an unusual public statement, Nissan on Monday confirmed that it had received the letter, and upbraided Renault for its position. The corporate-governance reform "was discussed thoroughly by Nissan's board and approved by all board members, including Renault's own nominees," Mr Saikawa said in a statement. "Such a stance runs counter to the company's efforts to improve its corporate governance."

Nissan also seized on comments made by the finance minister of France, Renault's biggest shareholder, that his government is willing to reduce its stake to strengthen the alliance. Nissan, which has long chafed against French influence, would prefer a full exit by the government, people familiar with Nissan's thinking said, asking not to be identified because the information isn't public.

Mr Senard, who was brought in by the French government to smooth the relationship with Nissan, has instead pressed Nissan for a merger it didn't want, then pursued the mega-deal with Fiat Chrysler.

The latest crisis erupted a week ago, when Renault's merger talks with Fiat fell apart. Nissan's two representatives to Renault's board had planned to abstain on the plan, prompting the French state to pause discussions - causing Fiat to pull out.

Even so, chairmen of both Fiat and Renault have since met, and the automakers are looking for ways to revive the merger plan and gain Nissan's approval, Reuters reported Monday.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, in Japan to attend G-20 meetings, sought to patch up tensions but ended up reminding the Japanese company of his government's outsized influence over the automakers with a 15 per cent stake in Renault.

Renault and Nissan produced a combined 10.6 million vehicles last year. A separation could result in years of disarray because Renault and Nissan cooperate on engineering, manufacturing, supply chain management, purchasing and human resources. BLOOMBERG