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Renault names new leaders as Ghosn bows out

Paris

RENAULT appointed Michelin boss Jean-Dominique Senard as its new chairman on Thursday, after Carlos Ghosn was forced to resign in the wake of a financial scandal that has rocked the French carmaker and its alliance with Japan's Nissan.

Mr Senard will become chairman immediately, with deputy chief executive Thierry Bollore taking over Ghosn's other Renault role as full CEO. The appointments may begin to ease a Renault-Nissan leadership crisis that erupted after Ghosn's Nov 19 arrest in Japan and swift dismissal as Nissan chairman.

Mr Senard, 65, now faces the task of soothing relations with Renault's Japanese partner and resuming talks on a new alliance structure to cement the 20-year-old partnership. "It's important that this alliance remain extremely strong," Mr Senard said after a board meeting - citing the mounting investment demands of new vehicle technologies.

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After 14 years as Renault CEO and a decade as chairman, Ghosn formally resigned from both roles on the eve of the board meeting. His arrest and indictment for financial misconduct has strained the Renault-Nissan relationship, threatening the future of the industrial partnership he transformed into a global carmaking giant.

For two months, the tensions deepened as Renault and the French government stuck by Ghosn despite the revelation that he had arranged to be paid tens of millions of dollars in additional income, unbeknownst to shareholders. Ghosn has been charged with failing to disclose more than US$80 million in additional compensation for 2010-18 that he had agreed to be paid later.

Nissan director Greg Kelly and the Japanese company itself have also been indicted. Both men deny the deferred pay was illegal or required disclosure, while not contesting the agreements' existence. Ghosn had agreed in recent days to step down from Renault - but only after the French government, Renault's biggest shareholder, called for leadership change and his bail requests were rejected.

Mr Senard, who had been due to retire from Michelin in April, now has fences to mend in Japan.

Following Ghosn's arrest, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa had sought to weaken Renault's control and resisted its attempts to nominate new directors to the Japanese carmaker's board. In a possible sign of detente on Thursday, Nissan called an April shareholder meeting to appoint a Renault-nominated board member and formally terminate Ghosn and Kelly's directorships. It remains unclear whether Renault, as Nissan's parent, will also name its next chairman. Nissan now owns a 15 per cent non-voting stake in its French parent and 34 per cent in Mitsubishi Motors, a third major partner in their manufacturing alliance.

Once its new management is settled, French officials want the alliance to resume work on a new ownership structure to cement the partnership. Nissan is wary of any such move. In an interview last week, Mr Saikawa acknowledged shareholders' concerns that the current structure undervalues their investments, but added that altering it was "really not the current priority".

As Renault CEO, Mr Bollore will also become chairman of the alliance, a French official said - as set out in the 2002 shareholder pact underpinning the partnership. His operational alliance role will be overseen by Mr Senard.

Renault has yet to finalise Ghosn's severance package, estimated by the CGT union at 25-28 million euros (S$39-43 million) in addition to an annual pension of 800,000 euros.

Fabien Gache, a Renault CGT spokesman, said on Thursday that the union would press the government to vote against the package at Renault's annual shareholder meeting in June. REUTERS